Working, and sitting, on the bench

Retired judge stays active in court and around house

Retired judge stays active in court and around house

May 25, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

CLEAR SPRING - From sitting on a judicial bench to working on a garden bench in his garage, R. Noel Spence has shifted his focus in the 2 1/2 years since his retirement from the District Court of Maryland for Washington County.

But the 72-year-old Spence hasn't forsaken his old calling entirely.

Required by state mandate to retire from the bench at age 70, Spence said he probably would have stayed had he had the option.

"But now I've got the best of both worlds - they ask you to sit but you don't have to go," Spence said as he put the finishing touches on an arbor/bench for his wife Vicky's clematis plants in their garden.

Spence, who retired in December 2003 after a 10-year career on the lower court bench, said he averages five or six days a month sitting as a District Court judge in a number of Maryland counties including Washington, Allegany and Carroll.


"Mostly I'm in Allegany and Washington counties," Spence said.

He leaves one judicial robe at the J. Louis Boublitz District Court building in Washington County and he takes a robe with him when he travels.

Vicky Spence said she washes and irons her husband's robe so he'll look his best, even though she admits he spends most of his time sitting on it.

Spence also takes his nameplate with him when he travels. "I have one for home and one for away, like sports," he said.

Only once was bad weather a factor for Spence when he was scheduled to sit in Allegany County during the winter.

"I decided to go up the night before. They were calling for snow but it didn't turn out to be as bad as expected," he said.

The time that Spence, as a retired judge, is allowed to sit as a visiting judge is limited by only one thing: As a retired judge, his pay as a visiting judge and his judicial retirement may not add up to more than the pay of an active judge, Spence said.

He explained that he can sit on the bench more often than judges who retired with full retirement benefits, which take effect after 16 years on the bench. At that level, full retirement equals two-thirds of the active judge's salary, limiting the time he or she can serve as a visiting judge.

As for the court procedure in all the different courts where he sits, Spence said, "Court is court," adding that the court personnel in every county couldn't be nicer to work with.

A 1952 Hagerstown High School alumnus, Spence graduated from the University of Maryland Law School in 1958. He worked in private legal practice, then did a brief stint in the FBI until a friend convinced him to join his Washington County legal practice.

In the 1960s, Spence spent four years in the Maryland House of Delegates, then worked as a magistrate judge in the system that preceded the current District Court system, which began in 1971.

In July 1984, Spence was appointed a part-time assistant state's attorney under then Washington County State's Attorney M. Kenneth Long Jr. He rose to full-time assistant in 1986, and then to deputy in 1988.

Spence was seated in the District Court on Oct. 1, 1993.

When Spence isn't wearing his robe or working around his home, he enjoys spending time on the golf course. "I'd play a couple of times a week if I could," he said. "I enjoy it as long as I have a golf cart so I don't have to walk too much."

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