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Judge Rutledge was a gentleman

August 21, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

Irvine H. Rutledge was a man of many qualities - a Civil War expert, an accomplished hunter, a great storyteller, occasional hang glider and most of all, a respected jurist.

But Rutledge, who died Thursday at the age of 85, will best be remembered by his peers as a gentleman, and he would have liked that.

Although he retired from the Washington County Circuit bench in 1978, many current practicing attorneys and judges remember their days standing before him during his 17 years on the bench.

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"He presided over my first trial as an attorney in 1974,'' said Washington County State's Attorney Ken Long. "He was very gracious. I lost but he was still very gracious.''

Attorney Ed Button recalled that his first murder trial as a public defender was before Rutledge around 1975.

"I remember presenting a profound legal argument which he graciously rejected,'' Button said. "He was a very knowledgeable man.''

New Washington County Circuit Judge Kennedy Boone practiced law during the last six years of Rutledge's stint on the bench.

"He was the epitome of a country judge,'' Boone said, meaning no disrespect, only high praise. "He was polite and well read, a true gentleman judge.''

Attorney George "Chip'' Snyder said he remembers Rutledge as being compassionate, understanding and fair.

"He was everything someone would expect of a rural, county judge,'' Snyder said. "But he never appeared to play any politics from the bench...never.''

Rutledge was tapped for the judgeship by the late Gov. Millard Tawes in 1962 and ran unopposed for the position two years later.

In a 1981 interview, Rutledge said that toward the end of his time on the bench he was becoming increasingly frustrated.

Specifically, he said the growing number of juvenile and domestic relations cases in Washington County cried out for solutions that weren't available then.

Years later, those two problems continue to vex attorneys and judges alike.

But even with those frustrations, Rutledge's love of the law led him back to private practice. He worked with Hagerstown attorney Martin Palmer on a lawsuit brought by Fairchild workers against the company for pulling out of Hagerstown and leaving them jobless.

"He set a standard for the judiciary, in this county and beyond,'' Palmer said.

Last spring, Palmer took a picnic lunch out to Rutledge's home and spent a pleasant afternoon talking and reminiscing with the then homebound judge.

"He was loved and respected as a jurist,'' Palmer said. "He earned the respect of all his litigants, win or lose.''

In 1992, a Washington County Circuit courtroom was dedicated in his honor.

At that ceremony, Judge Fred Wright presided over the placement of a plaque at the courtroom door.

"It will be a reminder to all of us who seek mercy,'' Wright said then.

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