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Shunning spotlight, Judge Wright dispensed justice well for 37 years

November 05, 2008

Quick, name the best umpire in baseball.

This is something of a trick question, since, in the purest sense, it is an umpire's job not to make a name for himself. We remember the ones who botch a call at first base or butcher the strike zone. But the umpires who demonstrate steady, day-to-day competence blend unnoticed into the background and almost become part of the field itself.

In a sense, Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III is like that umpire. For 37 years, Wright has been the county's steady hand, interested not in the spotlight, but in dispensing plain and simple justice for our people.

Other Tri-State area judges have gotten more headlines - in one instance for waving a pistol at a helicopter - and other judges have been flashier, happy to use their offices as a lightning rod for public opinion.

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Wright, who is retiring and will step down from office once his replacement is named, never bought into the idea of a judge as a celebrity. Instead, it was he who paid the utmost attention and care to the people who came before his bench, be it an accused criminal, victim or the children of divorcing parents.

Wright turned down tempting offers of a seat on Maryland's appeals courts, preferring to work directly with the people who found themselves in the court system.

This may have been his loss, but it was our gain. In and out of the courthouse, Wright has been a steady hand, which has been a comfort in times when other county leadership could best be described as shaky. With Wright, we knew - at some level - that an adult was always in charge.

A miser at dispensing his political capital, his words were taken seriously when he did choose to speak out. At the swearing-in ceremony of a particularly litigious group of County Commissioners in 2002, Wright took the opportunity to mildly dress-down the group for setting a bad community example by clogging the courts with matters that could be settled by compromise.

That was pretty much it for county lawsuits against City Hall.

But most of his success played out behind the scenes, in all-but-empty courtrooms and on the administrative side where he efficiently kept the docket humming along.

Much of what is wrong in politics today stems from public servants who stress the public over the servant. It's all about their own star power, how high they might rise in the system and how many times they can get their photo before the press.

Wright is the consummate servant. He stunted his own career for the sake of the people, because it was the people to whom Wright believed he had a duty to serve.

For nearly four decades, he has done this quietly, but marvelously. For this, we owe him our gratitude and wish him an interesting and active retirement.

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