The recent death of Judge Bill Horne leaves a void on the Mid-Shore. He was a native son who has left a legacy of public service and straight talk combined with an engaging and distinctive sense of humor.
Several years ago, as my wife and I were visiting Florence, Italy, we stopped for lunch in a delightful outdoor cafe at the famous Uffizi Museum. As we were eating, I saw a familiar face and walked over to him while realizing again how small our world really was. Yes, it was Bill Horne, then the circuit court judge for Talbot County.
He seemed pleased to see us, and we him. A conversation with Bill Horne was always easy and comfortable. He had no airs.He was bright and witty.
Appointed a judge in 1989 by then Gov. William Donald Schaefer after 16 years in the House of Delegates, Horne ended his service in the Maryland General Assembly as chair of the House Judiciary Committee. That committee, as is true today, handled many sensitive issues related to criminal law and sentencing, for example.
In the late 1980s, the Eastern Shore had powerful voices in Annapolis, exemplified by Speaker of the House Clay Mitchell of Kent County and, of course, Bill Horne. That sort of power no longer characterizes the Eastern Shore Delegation, sadly so.
Mitchell and Horne were conservative Democrats, a lost breed in the corridors of power in Annapolis. As is true in Congress, the extremes in the Democratic and Republican parties rule the roost. Just a fact in today’s political environment.
My sense, confirmed by Bill Horne’s associates, was that he did not suffer fools gladly. He expected those testifying before the House Judiciary County and appearing as lawyers before the Talbot County Circuit Court to be prepared. That was fair. He naturally had little time and patience for those who chose to avoid diligent homework.
I was not surprised to read that his sentencing was tough, mixed with fairness.
In his later years, Horne, who lived in the Shireton on Dover Street, could be seen strolling with his long walking stick. He was amiable and approachable.
It is too easy to forget the invaluable contributions made to the community by the likes of Bill Horne. He mentored many.
A circuit court judge in the one-judge counties on the Eastern Shore has immense power. He or she determines the tenor of justice in a jurisdiction like Talbot County, along with the one District Court judge. He or she is responsible for the public perception of justice in the Court House.
Horne served the public as State’s Attorney, state delegate and circuit court judge. He relished the obligations, knowing he was operating under a relentless glare of the court of public opinion.
His family and friends will miss Horne. So will our community, particularly those who had the privilege to know and like the Easton gentleman. He made his mark through his keen intelligence, his personality and his ethics.
I will always remember crossing paths with Judge Horne in the unlikely place of an eatery at the Uffizi Museum in Florence. He was affable and funny.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.