Behind the scenes: “I’ve got the greatest job in the world.”
An interview with Judge John R. Hargrove, Jr., administrative judge, Baltimore City District Court

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When Baltimore City District Judge John R. Hargrove, Jr., was appointed administrative judge for District 1, Baltimore City, in 2010, he was almost literally following in his father’s footsteps. Hon. John R. Hargrove, Sr., was the first administrative judge for the Baltimore City District Court. The District Court’s Hargrove Building at 700 E. Patapsco Ave. is named in his honor.

Before serving in the Maryland courts, the senior Judge Hargrove was the first African American to be appointed assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. In 1962, he was appointed judge of the old People’s Court for Baltimore, and served briefly before he lost an election for the position. In 1968, Judge Hargrove Sr. was appointed judge for the old Municipal Court of Baltimore City. When that court became the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City in 1971, he was named its first administrative judge. In 1974, he was appointed judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City (now the Circuit Court for Baltimore City), where he served until 1984, when he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. He held that position until his death in 1997.

The junior Judge Hargrove has been on the bench since 1998. He is a Baltimore native and graduated from Gilman School. After graduating from Washington and Lee University, Judge Hargrove earned his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1987. From 1986 to 1987, he was a law clerk to Judge Arrie W. Davis when he was a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge and, from 1987 to 1988, served as law clerk to Judge Robert M. Bell when he was on the Court of Special Appeals. Judge Hargrove was an associate at Venable, Baetjer, and Howard from 1988 until 1990, when he was appointed an assistant attorney general for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. In 1994, he joined the general litigation unit of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and in 1997 he was appointed deputy counsel to the Maryland Insurance Administration, a position he held until his appointment to the bench in 1998.

When Judge Hargrove Jr. was relatively new to the role of administrative judge, he sat down to talk about his father, the job of administrative judge, and what it means to him to be in the same profession as the man he was named after.

You can watch the video here.

Did you always want to be a lawyer?
I have a brother and two sisters. And I'm the only one that followed in my father's footsteps and went into law. I spent an awful lot of time with my father in his office before he became a judge, with his cases, going to court with him, and I’ve got to believe that’s ultimately what got me back to the law. There came a period of time in high school and college where I had great difficulty with being a junior to senior because I just thought people had certain expectations of me based on my father and his career. I didn’t have anything to do with being John Jr. … So, mostly in my earlier adult life, I just wanted this identity that everyone didn’t assume I was going to become a lawyer. That was what I always got: “When are you going to law school?”

I was a drama major at Washington and Lee University and I was fascinated with it, and I was convinced that I was going to make this grand mark in the theater. When I got out of school, I was employed by the District Court, and what I did for probably six or seven years, I did a lot of community theater, I did a lot of stuff with the Arena Players, every now and again, we’d get something that I’d get paid to do, but never much, and it was primarily local stuff. It got to the point that I had an audition for a production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” I can’t tell you what was the moment or why it happened, but I do know that at that moment I decided that we were going to cut bait or fish. I said, if I get cast in the show, I will take this as a sign that I need to pursue theater. If I don’t get cast, I’m going to law school. Because I’d always had this interest, going back to that time following my father around and seeing what he did, and reading his briefs and all that kind of stuff. Well, I got a call-back but did not get cast, and I applied to law school almost immediately. Now, you can call it fate, because I think ultimately that it was the right move.

I haven’t run into a whole lot of lawyers that have backgrounds in theater. But I always thought – I was a litigator – that it was great practice because I was real good at being persuasive. I always believed my theater training benefitted me as a litigator, presenting things, making arguments.

What about becoming a judge?
My first thoughts of wanting to be a judge occurred when I was either in my late time in the MVA or early in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. I remember somebody asking me about it, and I started formulating the answer that I’d be lying to you if I told you I didn’t think about it. Why I was thinking about it, I don’t know. I don’t know if ultimately I am following in my father’s footsteps. I really don’t. I am real interested in justice. Just doing the right thing. And sometimes doing the right thing isn’t what the prosecution wants to do, and sometimes it’s not what defense counsel wants to do. In the civil cases, it’s not always what the plaintiff might think justice is, or the defendant might think that justice is. I like the community aspect of our courts, particularly in the criminal vein. I’ve always been interested in District Court. I like our clientele. I like dealing with the homeless and the drug addicted and the mentally ill because I think we can help that group of people with some of our programs. With the people that we see, I believe there is some hope, and we as a judiciary can do something for them. So I am a proponent of all the problem-solving courts. I presided over drug treatment court for three years in our court. We have a mental health court. There’s a truancy court that goes on out of there. There used to be a teen court. And then we have an early resolution court. We have a lot of diversionary programs.

I fully concede this [becoming administrative judge] was one opportunity I thought that I literally follow in his footsteps and do something he had done. Because I never envisioned myself going to Circuit Court and I can guarantee you that I will not try to go to the Federal Court. I just don’t have that interest.

I recognize always that this is the greatest job in the world. I mean, a lot of people will say that, but I just … well, I’ve told the people I work with, I say, if you ever hear me complain, just slap me, okay? Just slap me real hard on the side of the face. What’s to complain about, for gosh sake?

Artist's drawing of Judge Hargrove Sr. on the bench in federal court
Artist's drawing of Judge Hargrove Sr. on the bench in
federal court.

Photos from a Feb. 1958 Ebony magazine article shows Judge Hargrove with his siblings and mother (top), and his wife and two sons (bottom) – John Jr. is on the left
Photos from a Feb. 1958 Ebony magazine article show
Judge Hargrove Sr. with his siblings and mother (top),
and his wife and two sons (bottom). John Jr. is on
the left.

Jet magazine reported the July 1953 wedding of Shirley A. Hayes and John Hargrove
Jet magazine reported the June 1953 wedding of Shirley
A. Hayes and John Hargrove.

Judge E. Everett Lane (left) and John Hargrove Sr. (right)
The Baltimore Sun reported the retirement of Maryland's
first African-American judge, Judge E. Everett Lane, Jan. 21,
1962, and featured this photograph of Judge Lane with his
"probable successor" John Hargrove Sr. The Sun was right:
Mr. Hargrove became Judge Hargrove soon thereafter when
he was appointd to replace Judge Lane.

Hargrove family picture
The Hargrove family at the unveiling of Judge
Hargrove Sr.'s Circuit Court portrait.

Judge Hargrove Sr. with friends
Judge Hargrove Sr. with friends at his 70th birthday
celebration.

Judge John R. Hargrove Sr. on the bench in Baltimore
Judge John R. Hargrove Sr. on the bench in Baltimore.
Judge Hargrove Sr. with a man in a tuxedo
John Hargrove Sr. with Walter Black in the
U.S. Attorney's office. Both later became
federal judges.

Photos from a Feb. 1958 Ebony magazine article show scenes from the Hargrove household
Photos from a Feb. 1958 Ebony magazine article show
scenes from the Hargrove household.

From an Ebony magazine article, Feb. 1958
From an Ebony magazine article, Feb. 1958.
Judge and Mrs. Hargrove Sr. are joined at a birthday celebration by Judge Robert M. Bell
Judge and Mrs. Hargrove Sr. are joined at his 70th
birthday celebration by Judge Robert M. Bell.

Mock Trial photo 2
Judge Hargrove Sr. and colleagues during his time
on the Federal Bench.

Judge Hargrove Sr. at home
Judge Hargrove Sr. at home.
Judge Hargrove Sr. with a colleague in a tuxedo
On his wedding day, Judge Hargrove Jr. is
joined by his father.

Judge and Mrs. John R. Hargrove Sr
Judge and Mrs. John R. Hargrove Sr.
Judge John R. Hargrove Sr., United States District Court for the District of Maryland
Judge John R. Hargrove Sr.'s official Baltimore City
Circuit Court photo. Judge Hargrove Jr. has a copy of
this photo in his office.