James J. Cromwell, prominent Montgomery County lawyer, dies

James J. Cromwell, a Montgomery County lawyer who served as president of the county’s bar association during the 1980s and was prominent on area boards and in professional organizations, died Oct. 30 at the Arden Courts assisted living facility in Potomac. He was 77.

He had Alzheimer’s disease and lung cancer, said his son David Cromwell.

Mr. Cromwell was a general law practitioner who developed an expertise in business litigation and family law. He was a partner in a Silver Spring law firm for many years and worked of counsel from 1992 to 2010 in the Rockville office of Miles and Stockbridge, a Baltimore-based law firm.

During the early 1980s, he served as president of the Montgomery County Bar Association and led an effort to provide free legal help to poor people in Maryland. In the mid-1990s, Mr. Cromwell chaired a state commission on the future of the Maryland courts. He was a past chairman of the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland. He was elected to the American College of Trial Lawyers.

In 1997, Mr. Cromwell received an award from the Maryland Bar Foundation for his “outstanding leadership in working to improve government and the administration of justice,” according to the organization’s Web site.


James J. Cromwell, a Montgomery County lawyer who served as president of the county’s bar association during the 1980s and was prominent on area boards and professional organizations, died Oct. 30. He was 77. (Family Photo)

James Julian Cromwell was born in Rockville on Feb. 19, 1935. He was a 1953 graduate of the private St. Albans School in Washington and later served as board chairman of St. Albans.

He was a 1957 graduate of the University of Virginia and a 1959 graduate of its law school. After Army service, Mr. Cromwell worked for the Rockville law firm Simpson and Simpson. In the early and mid-1960s, he served as deputy state’s attorney in Montgomery County. In 1970, while in private practice, he argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Cromwell served as board chairman of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda and the National Rehabilitation Hospital. He was a past board member of the Chevy Chase Club.

His wife of 32 years, Barbara Betts Cromwell, was killed in 1995 during a robbery while on vacation in St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two teenagers were convicted of her murder.

Survivors include his wife of 14 years, Louise Mathews Cromwell of Bethesda; three children from his first marriage, Elisabeth Lawrence Cromwell of Gaithersburg and James J. Cromwell Jr. and David Cromwell, both of Potomac; a brother, Stephen Cromwell of Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring; a sister, Elaine Cromwell of Bethesda; and eight grandchildren.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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