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John P. Corderman, former jurist who survived 1989 pipe bombing, dies at 70

August 01, 2012|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • A portrait of former Washington County Circuit Judge John P. Corderman hangs on the wall at Washington County Circuit Court. Corderman, a former jurist and Maryland state senator, died July 31 in Baltimore. He was 70.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

John P. Corderman, a former Washington County Circuit judge and Maryland state senator, died Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. He was 70.

“Our family is truly grateful for the time God gave us with Jack,” a statement from Corderman’s family read. “He was a loving person who dedicated much of his time to helping others and we are proud of all that he accomplished. We will miss him dearly and know that his spirit lives on in the lives of all those he touched.”

Corderman’s survivors include his wife, Ann; daughter, Elizabeth; sons, Paul and Robert; and his mother, Gertrude Carder, according to his obituary.

“In many respects, he was just larger than life,” said Washington County Circuit Court Administrative Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr., a friend of Corderman’s for many years.

“In 1970, a mutual friend introduced Jack and me to each other, and I ended up being a summer intern at the law firm he worked in,” Long said Wednesday. “Here it is 42 years later, and we’ve been friends all that time.”

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“I worked with him. I practiced before him as state’s attorney,” Long said. “He was a very bright lawyer.”

A 1968 honors graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law, he served as Washington County deputy state’s attorney from 1971 to 1974. A Democrat, he was elected to the Maryland Senate in 1974, and served two years.

After passing the bar exam, Corderman joined the Hagerstown law firm of Wagaman, Wagaman & Meyers, a firm that now is Meyers, Young & Grove, William P. Young Jr. said. Corderman later became a partner in what became Meyers, Wagaman, Corderman & Young, P.A., Young said.

“He was a skilled litigator,” Young said. “He had that sixth sense about not just how to present a case, but choreograph a case.”

Legal career

Corderman was a past president of the Maryland State Bar Association, and served on the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, Young said.

Corderman was appointed to the bench in 1977 to fill the term vacated by Paul Ottinger, who resigned. He was elected to a 15-year term in 1978. He left the bench in 1993.

While on the bench, Corderman had a close call on Dec. 22, 1989, when a package of pipe bombs exploded in his third-floor apartment in Hagerstown.

He sustained shrapnel wounds to his right hand and abdomen and partial hearing loss in the attack.

“There is no way I should have survived. No way I should be alive,” Corderman said a week after the attack.

No one was ever charged in that bombing.

During his tenure, Corderman played a key role in taking to task some of the county’s private clubs for their gambling activities in the early 1980s.

In 1980, Corderman was one of two Circuit judges who ordered a grand jury investigation into club gambling following allegations that existing law was being abused, according to published reports at the time.

After months of looking into the matter, the jurors instructed then-State’s Attorney John Salvatore to begin prosecutions, according to published reports at the time.

Nine clubs were charged and scheduled for trial. Although some clubs were found guilty of some charges, appeals were filed.

In announcing his plans to step down from the bench in 1993, Corderman cited a hearing deficiency and ringing in his ears stemming from the pipe bomb explosion.

His retirement came just months after a woman in court on a probation violation told the judge hearing that case that she had a relationship with Corderman while he was her sponsor in a program for alcoholics.

‘Lawyer in paradise’

In the spring of 1996, Corderman left Hagerstown after securing a job he’d read about in a magazine ad that led off with: “Be a lawyer in paradise.”

The job was that of attorney general of Palau, a small island nation in the western Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines.

About a year later, Corderman returned to Hagerstown. An article in Palau’s biweekly newspaper said Corderman was fired eight days after he filed a criminal case against the deputy director of public safety and one day after a planned raid on a series of marijuana farms on the island was aborted.

In December 2008, a state prison inmate sent a letter to Corderman’s Hagerstown law office containing a threatening note and a white powder. The powder later was identified as ground-up Tylenol, and the inmate eventually was convicted of making a phony destructive device and given another five years in prison.

Corderman testified at the trial of the inmate, convicted killer Robert Turner, that he never had any dealings with Turner as a judge or attorney. Turner testified he sent the letter to bring attention to his efforts to have his sentence modified.

Corderman closed his Hagerstown law office and retired about 18 months ago, Long said.

Corderman was the son of the late John E. Corderman, a prominent figure in Washington County Democratic politics.

The Jaycees of Hagerstown, YMCA of Hagerstown, Humane Society of Washington County and Rotary Club were among the organizations in which Corderman was active, his obituary said.

From The Herald-Mail archives:

• Corderman bombing still unsolved

• Judge Corderman loses his job in paradise

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