The Honorable Richard B. Latham
Date of Death: September 3, 2012
A former Circuit Court Judge for Montgomery County, died on Monday, September 3, 2012. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Nancy Hendrickson Latham and three sons, Richard B. Latham, Jr. and his wife, Francie, Jeffrey G. Latham and Stephen G. Latham and his wife, Lea, and five grandchildren.
A visitation will be held on Wednesday, September 5, 2012 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Fellows, Helfenbein & Newnam Funeral Home, P.A., 200 S. Harrison St., Easton, MD 21601. A funeral service will be held on Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 11 a.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 111 S. Harrison St., in Easton. Interment will follow in Oxford Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you send memorial contributions to Montgomery County Bar Foundation, 27 West Jefferson St., Rockville, MD 20850 or Talbot Hospice Foundation, 586 Cynwood Dr. Easton, MD 21601
For online tributes, please visit www.fhnfuneralhome.com.
Published in The Washington Post on September 5, 2012.
JUDGE RICHARD B. LATHAM REMEMBRANCES
Former Montgomery County Circuit Court judge, Richard B. Latham, passed away on September 3, 2012 after a long illness. He served on the Circuit Court from 1975—1988, and previously on the District Court from 1970--1975. No obituary can fairly describe someone who lived a full life, had a marvelous sense of humor, and was a favorite of trial lawyers, litigants and courthouse personnel. But his former law clerks have collected a series of remembrances about Judge Latham in an effort to preserve his legacy and to share his remarkable characteristics with the Bar before memories fade.
Most of Judge Latham’s law clerks were hired as the sons and daughters of his friends and neighbors. Today, those law clerks are judges, prosecutors, public defenders, private practice attorneys, public interest attorneys, and entrepreneurs. Their recollections vary, of course, but they are uniform in the high esteem in which they regard him, and the fondness with which they remember their special year as his aide, researcher, opinion drafter, courtroom clerk, confidant, and occasional airport chauffer.
We knew him variously as a neighbor, lawn service customer, shoe shine customer and little league coach before he was our mentor. He was always cheerful, outspoken, fair, direct, and evoked friendly responses from everyone he encountered. He was devoted to his wife, Nancy, and his three sons. One clerk observed that Judge Latham experienced special joy when adoptions were held in chambers—and he took special care to make those occasions memorable for the parents and the adopted child. Judge Latham was also enthusiastic about naturalization day, noting the excitement exhibited by new citizens. He was respectful of the stress of trial work; once he adjourned a trial for the day so a new father could go visit his wife and new baby in the hospital. These events balanced his sterner side that often came out in criminal cases. He was a strict sentencing judge, and defendants’ attorneys usually (but not always) avoided scheduling guilty pleas before him. Only half in jest, he often quoted the maxim, “not always right, but never in doubt.”
Judge Latham never acted as if he were better or higher in status than anybody just because he was a judge. As the “jury judge”, he took particular interest in assuring that congressmen and others who deemed themselves too important for jury service were served with bench warrants for their failure to appear for jury service. Having open heart surgery unexpectedly was a sufficient excuse for missing jury duty, but not much else! Sitting as the judge on URESA day to hear contempt proceedings for deadbeat (mostly) fathers behind in child support payments, Judge Latham frequently lectured on the responsibility to support one’s family. He was also quick to spot the deception and disguises (with the assistance of the Sheriff’s Office) frequently attempted by defendants to avoid their payment obligations—those defendants were promptly hauled off to the Detention Center until their arrearages were paid.
Most of the clerks observed that jurors loved Judge Latham. He was considerate of their needs, cracked an occasional joke in the courtroom to break up the tedium, and answered their questions directly and promptly. Every so often—by accident—he would set off the alarm that summoned armed sheriffs to the courtroom, and that would really entertain everyone in the courtroom! The courthouse staff was equally enamored of Judge Latham, despite his famous insistence on punctuality and accountability for their respective tasks. He was indignant in the courtroom when attorneys tried to browbeat witnesses or were rude to him or others. He was in charge, and there was no mistaking that while he presided. He believed that attorneys always should be well prepared and their word should be their bond. Once you got to know the judge, his facial expressions in the courtroom quickly signaled how he felt about an issue, a litigant, or an attorney—and he didn’t mince words in describing them as soon as he disappeared behind the courtroom door for a break or at the end of the day. He thrived on the dynamics of litigation and always tried to make fair and pragmatic decisions, not necessarily ones that focused on the nuances of more esoteric or intellectual points.
With his clerks, he preferred to have a dialogue regarding their research and the distinguishing characteristics of the case law compared to his pending case, rather than to conduct his own research. His clerks were the primary drafters of the opinions reflecting his decisions, and he was quick to advise his clerks that “they” were reversed whenever an appellate court disagreed with his decision! As a great and warm mentor to his clerks, Judge Latham daily discussed with them all aspects of trials (and his prior civil trial practice) to instill in them the right and the wrong way to litigate.
Judge Latham relished colorful attire. His plaid pants were the subject of much ridicule and admiration. He attracted lots of attention at social gatherings (with his rum and Coke in hand), and loved walking down the hallways of the “old” Circuit Court building greeting lawyers by name and shaking their hands. He was active in the County and State bar associations and was a frequent attendee and contributor to their causes. He played softball until well into his ‘60s. All of us have vivid memories of the frequent visits by trial attorneys to his chambers where the topics would include animated trial gossip, practice tips, a wide variety of jokes, his vacations to Fire Island, children, and more personal advice.
Each of the clerks has their own library of memorable cases, attorneys, events, witnesses, and exhibits. Judge Latham was quick to expound on them at the time, and remembered them faithfully for years thereafter. In yearly reunions with his clerks, there was much laughter and merriment involved in the re-telling of these stories. Most of them are hard to repeat here, and some won’t pass decency standards. You had to be there!
We all miss Judge Latham dearly. He was our mentor, our coach, our friend, the entrée into our careers, and a shining light of fairness, grace, good humor and humility. In his era, he was one of the best judges and people around—no one forgot their dealings with Judge Latham. We hope you won’t either!
Myra Kovach Mal Snyder Mike Ryan John Weidenbruch
Robby Brewer Bobby Keene Cheryl McCally Karyn McAuliffe
Steve Ring Mary Beth McCormick Tom McCally
Jeff Van Grack Bob Pillote Roberta Wolcott