Christian M. Kahl

Bal­ti­more County cir­cuit judge was known for his steady de­meanor and pa­tient dis­po­si­tion on the bench

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen fras­mussen@balt­

Judge Christian M. Kahl, a re­tired Bal­ti­more County cir­cuit judge who had also served on the Dis­trict Court, died Mon­day of a stroke at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Tow­son. The Ti­mo­nium res­i­dent was 80. “Chris Kahl was a dear friend, a great at­tor­ney, and a won­der­ful judge,” said re­tired Bal­ti­more County Cir­cuit Judge John F. Fader II. “He was ab­so­lutely one of the most de­cent in­di­vid­u­als I’ve known on the face of the earth.

“He was al­ways pa­tient, knowl­edge­able about the law, or­ga­nized and did ev­ery­thing the way it should be done,” he said.

“Chris Kahl was gen­tle, kind, pa­tient and just a great ju­rist,” said for­mer law part­ner and re­tired Bal­ti­more County Cir­cuit Judge Tim­o­thy J. Mar­tin. “He gave lawyers and their par­ties re­spect and his at­ten­tion. He was steady on the bench, and there was never any vol­canic non­sense.”

“He was on the top rung of the lad­der,” said Ed­ward C. Co­va­hey, a part­ner in the Tow­son law firm of Co­va­hey, Boozer, Devon & Dore.

The son of Christian Henry Kahl, Bal­ti­more County’s first elected county ex­ec­u­tive, and Mar­ion Say­ford Meese, a home­maker, Christian Meese Kahl was born in Bal­ti­more and raised in Reis­ter­stown.

He at­tended McDonogh School and grad­u­ated in 1953 from Franklin High School.

He earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences in 1958 from the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity.

Com­mis­sioned a lieu­tenant in the Army in­fantry in 1958, he grad­u­ated from In­fantry Of­fi­cers’ School at Fort Ben­ning, Ga., and com­pleted ac­tive duty at Fort Dix, N.J., in 1960.

He sub­se­quently served on re­serve sta­tus as an of­fi­cer with the Mary­land Air Na­tional Guard un­til be­ing dis­charged from re­serve sta­tus in 1967.

From 1960 to 1963, he at­tended the old Eastern Col­lege of Com­merce and Law, and earned a law de­gree in 1963 from the old Mount Ver­non School of Law — now the Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more School of Law. He was ad­mit­ted to the Mary­land Bar that year.

Dur­ing 1962 and 1963, he served as a law clerk and bailiff for Bal­ti­more County Cir­cuit Judge Lester L. Bar­rett.

He was an as­sis­tant county solic­i­tor from 1965 to 1968, then went into pri­vate prac­tice with Robert P. Mann, a Tow­son at­tor­ney. He later joined with three lawyers to form the Tow­son law firm of Beach, Cadi­gan and Kahl.

“I was a young law stu­dent in the 1970s and I was work­ing for the De­part­ment of Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices, and one day Chris called and we be­came friends,” Judge Mar­tin re­called.

“He said, ‘When you pass the bar,’ which I did in 1975, ‘get a job and then come work part time for us.’ I later joined the firm and be­came a part­ner, and we worked to­gether for years.”

In ad­di­tion to prac­tic­ing law, Judge Kahl served as a part-time ju­ve­nile master for the Bal­ti­more County Cir­cuit Court from 1969 to 1984, when he was ap­pointed by then-Gov. Harry R. Hughes to the Bal­ti­more County Dis­trict Court.

“I first met Chris Kahl when he was a master in ju­ve­nile court and I was an in­tern,” Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz said in a state­ment. “We con­tin­ued the re­la­tion­ship as we both served in dif­fer­ent ca­pac­i­ties in the dis­trict and cir­cuit courts.”

Mr. Kamenetz said he and Judge Kahl “al­ways had fond con­ver­sa­tions and de­vel­oped a deeper affin­ity for each other af­ter I be­came county ex­ec­u­tive, be­cause Chris’ fa­ther, Christian H. Kahl, was the first Bal­ti­more County ex­ec­u­tive to serve a four-year term, from 1958 through 1962.”

In 1990, Gov. Wil­liam Don­ald Schae­fer named Judge Kahl to the Bal­ti­more County Cir­cuit Court to re­place Judge Frank E. Ci­cone who had re­tired. He was elected to a full 15-year term in 1992.

“I tried lots of cases be­fore him, and he would never pub­licly em­bar­rass a lawyer if they screwed up. He’d take them to his cham­bers and speak with them,” said Mr. Co­va­hey, who knew Judge Kahl for 40 years.

“When de­fen­dants left court, they knew that they had had a fair trial,” he said. “On the bench or off, he was one of the kind­est guys I’ve ever met.”

Dur­ing his ca­reer, Judge Kahl presided over sev­eral in­ter­est­ing cases.

In 2002, af­ter DNA ev­i­dence freed Bernard Web­ster for a 1982 rape that he did not com­mit — and af­ter he had spent 20 years of wrong­ful im­pris­on­ment at the Mary­land Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tute — Judge Kahl hugged Michele Nether­croft, the at­tor­ney who was in charge of the In­no­cence Project, which helped free Mr. Web­ster, and an­other at­tor­ney, Pa­trick Kent.

“Mr. Web­ster, there is noth­ing that any­one can say to jus­tify what hap­pened in this case,” Judge Kahl told the man. “I wish you luck.”

In 2005, he signed the death war­rant for Ver­non L. “Shorty” Evans Jr., who had been sen­tenced to death along with An­thony Gran­di­son, who was on death row, for the April 1983 killings of David Scott Piechow­icz and Su­san Kennedy at the War­ren House Mo­tor Ho­tel in Pikesville.

In 2015, Gov. Mar­tin J. O’Mal­ley com­muted their sen­tences to life with­out pa­role.

Judge Kahl re­tired in 2005 but con­tin­ued to sit on dis­trict and cir­cuit courts.

“He didn’t want to re­tire when he turned 70,” Judge Fader said. “But he was in great de­mand as a trav­el­ing judge go­ing to Ce­cil and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties. He re­ally en­joyed it.”

He be­came a li­censed pri­vate pi­lot in 1990 and also en­joyed play­ing ten­nis, golf and sail­ing.

“He was a vo­ra­cious reader,” said his wife of 34 years, the for­mer Ju­dith Lynn Ly­erly Dreikorn.

Judge Kahl de­vel­oped his love of the the­ater when he worked at a sum­mer stock the­ater, the Jen­ner­stown Play­house in Jen­ner­stown, Pa., in 1957.

He at­tended plays at the Hip­po­drome Theatre, Cen­ter Stage and on Broad­way. A clas­si­cal mu­sic lover, he was also a long­time sub­scriber to the Bal­ti­more Sym­phony Orches­tra.

For 27 years, he and his wife en­joyed spend­ing time at a sec­ond home in Ocean City and go­ing to Florida in the win­ter.

In re­cent years, Judge Kahl suf­fered from ataxia, a neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der that af­fects mus­cle move­ment.

“It was a hor­ri­ble strug­gle for Chris and Judy but they han­dled it well be­cause of the lov­ing cou­ple that they are. They han­dled it with great dig­nity,” Judge Fader said. “The dis­ease sapped his abil­ity to be a judge, and it was a ter­ri­ble thing that he was un­able to keep up with his life’s work.

“I am go­ing to miss Chris hor­ri­bly,” he said.

A memo­rial ser­vice will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 7 at St. An­drew’s Christian Com­mu­nity Church, 5802 Roland Ave.

In ad­di­tion to his wife, Judge Kahl is sur­vived by two sons, Christian H. Kahl II of Ocean Pines and An­drew G. “Drew” Kahl of Oneonta, N.Y.; two step­sons, Matthew L. Dreikorn of San Diego and Ja­son L. Dreikorn of Gaithers­burg; two half broth­ers, Michael F. Kahl of Bal­ti­more and Pe­ter A. Kahl of Street; a sis­ter, Lois B. Devoe of Ti­mo­nium; and seven grand­chil­dren. An ear­lier mar­riage to El­iz­a­beth Z. “Betsy” Kahl ended in di­vorce. Judge Christian M. Kahl “gave lawyers and their par­ties re­spect and his at­ten­tion,” said a for­mer law part­ner.

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