By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
Del. John Hanson Briscoe was part of the New Leadership Ticket of the late J. Frank Raley, who with Briscoe, put together a ticket to shake up the old Dorsey Machine in the 1962 General Election in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. The New Leadership attempted to play on the popularity of the New Frontier of President John F. Kennedy’s administration and swept most of their ticket into office. Of course, this was all about Democratic Party politics as there weren’t enough Republicans around to paint a pink elephant, much less win an election.
Aside from GOP Sen. Paul Jacob Bailey, who was elected to the Maryland State Senate in 1946 and 1950 and then again in 1966 and 1970. But Bailey’s victories came due to his own personal popularity, not to any sudden surge in GOP registration. Bailey was basically an appendage of the Dorsey Machine and when Judge Philip H. Dorsey’s team lost in a primary they simply supported Bailey.
Briscoe and Sen. J. Frank Raley were mostly aligned with the Lexington Park and lower county side while the old line Dorsey Machine had strong support in the Seventh District and Leonardtown regions. Raley served but one term in the Senate but he had great connections with statewide politicians and was responsible for practically every judgeship appointment over the course of forty years, with the possible exception of Governor Marvin Mandel’s selection of States Attorney Joe Weiner to replace the retiring Judge Dorsey. Sen. Raley was responsible for the appointment of Briscoe to the Circuit Court by his former college roommate and fellow Senator, then Governor Harry Roe Hughes.
Briscoe’s grip on the Judgeship wasn’t certain as many in local politics urged States Attorney Walter B. Dorsey to run against his longtime nemesis. But Dorsey said years later that he didn’t think he could unseat Briscoe and stayed in his own secure post. Sen. Raley was responsible for the appointment of Judges Marvin Kaminetz and Jim Kenney to the bench as well as Del. John Slade to the District Court. Raley sent a copy of his letter urging Gov. Glendening to appoint Slade to St. Mary’s Today after an article noted his perfect record of boosting local lawyers to the bench. Raley surely had a hand in landing Judge Karen Abrams, the wife of Judge Kenney, on the Circuit Court, to replace Briscoe.
Briscoe could thank Richard Nixon for his becoming Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. Nixon selected Maryland Governor Spiro T. “Ted” Agnew to be his running mate in 1968 and the successful Republican victory created a vacancy in the Maryland governorship. The House of Delegates selected Speaker Marvin Mandel to fill the remaining two years of Agnew’s term and Briscoe got the nod to replace Mandel.
Judge Briscoe was upset over the showing of upstart Roy Dyson in the 1974 election when Dyson’s vote tally surprised everyone as he led the ticket in the Democratic Primary and again in November as Del. Sprague, Briscoe and Dyson were the Delegates for the district which comprised Charles and St. Mary’s Counties.
The competitive friction in Democratic Party politics between the two spanned the decades and in 1995 Dyson, then in his first term in the State Senate, spiked the bond bill and killed off Judge Briscoe’s pet project of a new Judicial Palace.
All of the Judge’s horses and all of the Judge’s men couldn’t put the Judicial Palace back together again and in September of 1995, Republican Commissioners Larry Jarboe, Frances Eagan and Chris Brugman voted to retain the old courthouse and renovate and expand it. Judge Briscoe learned to accept presiding over cases in the temporary courthouse while he held a firm hand on the construction details to make the expansion project please him and Judge Kaminetz.
As for his performance as Judge, not a lot was expected of Briscoe as he had only been a real estate settlement attorney for his private law practice with much of the work performed by a great staff such as Irene Graves Parish and others who worked in the Lexington Park offices of Briscoe, Kenney & Kaminetz.
Briscoe stepped up to the plate and proved in some very complex criminal cases that he had the ability to control the courtroom and deliver a fair verdict, and unlike Judge Joseph A. Mattingly, Sr., Judge Briscoe stayed awake during trials.
Judge Briscoe’s disdain for the newspaper cartoons and for losing the battle of moving the courthouse was well known but unlike States Attorney Richard Fritz and Sheriff Richard Voorhaar, he never once raided newsstands to rid the county of the menace posed by a spirited exercise of the First Amendment. But he did order a St. Mary’s Today newspaper machine which vended the newspaper to be removed from the front of his courthouse and cited his fear of front page headlines tainting a jury pool. After interference by newspaper attorney Alice Neff Lucan and the Maryland Attorney General, the newspaper machine was restored to a location in front of the courthouse.
See more toons with the Judges in The Story of The Rag in Kindle, paperback. There is now an audiobook edition but you will have to imagine the cartoons.
LEONARDTOWN, MD. – Judge John Hanson Briscoe, former Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and St. Mary’s County Circuit Court Judge, 79, of Hollywood, MD, died peacefully January 1, 2014 at his home attended by his family. He was born April 10, 1934, in Leonardtown, Maryland to the late John H. T. Briscoe and Hilda Maddox Briscoe.
He attended St. Mary’s Academy, Mount St. Mary’s College where he was a pitcher for the baseball team, and both the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore Schools of Law and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1960.
In 1962, he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates and served as Chairman of several committees, including the Natural Resources Committee, Environmental Matters Committee, and the Ways and Means Committee before being elected by the General Assembly as its Speaker from 1973 – 1979.
Upon his return to St. Mary’s County, he continued in the private practice of law with James A. Kenney, III, and Marvin S. Kaminetz until his appointment to Circuit Court Judge in 1986. He retired from the judiciary in 2002 to enjoy his time with family and friends.
As President of Historic Sotterley Foundation, he was dedicated to Sotterley’s establishment as a National Historic Landmark and its preservation as a vital public museum and educational site. He also served as President of the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission and as President of the St. Mary’s County Historical Society. As a long time member of the Lexington Park Rotary Club, he served as announcer of the oyster shucking contest at the Oyster Festival for several decades. As a legislator, he was instrumental in the passage of state civil rights laws, the expansion of Point Lookout State Park and the creation of Greenwell State Park and the College of Southern Maryland. He took pride in his environmental efforts and accomplishments spanning across the State of Maryland. He spent several years raising cattle and tending to his family farm in Hollywood and was an avid fisherman and hunter.
He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Bonnie Sue Briscoe, and his children, Lisa Jane Briscoe (Peter) of Timonium, MD; Janice Briscoe Baldwin (Sam) of Hollywood, MD; John Hanson Briscoe, Jr. (Diane) of Hollywood, MD; Dana Elizabeth Briscoe of Hollywood, MD; and Adam Lyle Briscoe (Sidney) of Providence Village, TX; nine grandchildren, Emily, Sam and Philip Baldwin, Jenna Briscoe, Jaime and Katrin Burke, James D. Russell (J.D.), and Quin and Soyer Briscoe, and one great-grandchild, Zoey Russell. His former wife, Sylvia, died on July 17, 2009. He is also survived by his sister, Adriana (MeMe) Gillaspy, his sisters, Hilda Briscoe and Maria “Lou” Gardiner having predeceased him.
Family will receive friends for John’s Life Celebration on Tuesday, January 7, 2014 from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m., with prayers at 7:00 p.m., at St. John’s Regis Catholic Church, 43950 St. John’s Road, Hollywood, MD 20636. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated by Rev. Raymond Schmidt on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. Interment will follow at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Leonardtown, MD.
Memorial contributions may be made in John Hanson’s name to Historic Sotterley, Inc. , P.O. Box 67, Hollywood, MD or online at www.sotterley.org
Condolences to the family may be made at www.brinsfieldfuneral.com