Judge H. Gary Bass

Judge H. Gary Bass (Walter M. McCardell, Baltimore Sun)

"He used to say, 'We're all products of our background. I'm not a psychiatrist, but I love playing one,'" said Judge Sweeney. "He could look at a person and read people, which is a great gift for a judge."

"Judge Bass was a character," said Sharon L. Cole, supervising attorney in the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

"When something bizarre would happen in District Court, he would say, 'Did Judge [Chief Justice William H.] Rehnquist start out this way?' He ran a relaxed courtroom," said Ms. Cole. "Court personnel was his family. He loved every moment on the bench. It was his life."

In one of his cases, an elderly woman was stopped at Northern Parkway by a police officer after she drove in reverse from her Padonia Road home, down Interstate 83, onto the Beltway and then down the Jones Falls Expressway.

Quizzed on this way of driving, she patiently explained to Judge Bass that she wanted to sell her car and driving backward made the odometer roll backward, increasing the chance of a sale.

"Bass gave her probation before judgment, imposed a small fine and said, essentially, lady don't do that again," reported The Evening Sun in 1984.

During the reconstruction of the Jones Falls Expressway in 1988, his courtroom was filled with motorists who had been ticketed for speeding in the construction zone.

This time, Judge Bass earned the ire of city police when he admitted in open court "having driven faster than the posted limit on the roadway," reported The Sun.

"He fined 80 people but gave them probation before judgment, meaning they didn't get any points added to their driving records," reported the newspaper.

"Let's be honest," Judge Bass said to a driver caught speeding near Orleans Street. "I travel the JFX. I do 54. Just tell me the truth."

The police department told the newspaper the judge's comments sounded like an "endorsement to break the law."

When Judge Bass turned 70 last November, he faced mandatory retirement.

"The worst day of Gary's life was Nov. 7. He didn't want to retire, he loved the job so much," said Mr. Lewis. "He looked forward to coming back and pinch-hit for judges who were sick or on vacation."

Judge Bass was a member of Beth Tifloh Congregation.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road.

Surviving are his wife of 30 years, the former Sarah Sokolsky; and his stepfather, Harry Brotman of Pikesville.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com