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