Prince Geroge's County Circuit Court Judge James H. Taylor, who conce carried bag lunches to Upper Marlboro because he was barred from segregated restaurants, now drives a Rolls Royce to work and chooses to "forget the past."
The 51-year-old circuit court judge has kept his sense of humor and easy-going temperament as he has advanced from his days as a private criminal attorney. during the jim Crow era of the 50s to his 1969 appointment as the only black circuit court judge in southern Maryland.
And as Taylor moved up in his career. criticism always followed. Over the years since he started his law practice in 1954. Taylor has been criticized for "not being more vocal about black concerns," criticized for driving expensive cars, and criticized for judicial rulings which some observers call compassionate and others term "soft"
The most recent sharp barrage of criticism against Taylor came last December when he sentenced 34-year-old Patsy Ann Hoover to 15 weekends in jail after she was convicted of drunken driving and manslauhter in an accident that killed a four-year-old girl and injured five others.
This criticism of Taylor's "compassion" in sentencing mirrors criticism other jurists around the country have been receiving as prosecutor after procecutor and prosecutor and police chief charge that judges are being too lenient with criminals.
"There has to be punishment, because there is no such thing as rehabilitation for criminals." said Arthur "Bud" Marshall Jr., the county state's attorney who hired Taylor for his first county job as an assistant state's attorney.
And Taylor, Marshall indicated has yet to fully recognize this. Yet Marshall said be still maintains his friendship with Taylor, but feels "he is an old softy." when it comes to sentencing.
"He believes everyone can be rehabilitated," added the state's attorney.
According to Marshall, Taylor has always been compassioned when he felt the defendants were not as guilty as the evidence indicated. "I remember that I had to screen cases from Taylor when he was an assistant state's attorney if I felt he did not have his heart in it." said Marshall.
Another former colleague of Taylor's Prince George's District Court Judge Vincent J. Femia. who served with Taylor as an assistant state's attorney. said the critics do not understand Taylor's role as judge.
"The prosecutor's job is to go for the throat. The uitimate objective is to rip the deiendant's throat out . . . Taylor was a throat-grabber when he was a prosecutor: but now that he has became judge his role has changed." Femia said.
Despite the criticism concerning the Pasty Ann Hoover case. Taylor maintains: "I thought I did what was right . . . and that's why I did it."
He came under severe fire for it. The day after the sentencing the father of the dead four-year-old girl said bitterly that the sentence was "a mockery of the law. I hate to see anyone go to jail. butshe should have paid." His sentiment was echoed in the letters columns of local newspapers for several days.
It was the Pasty Ann Hoover case that brought Judge Taylor, somewhat uncomfortably, into the limelight after relative obscurity of family court. But in the years before he became a judge, Taylor had grown used to obscurity.
By his own account. Taylor was the first Black to practice law in Prince George's County. It wasn't very easy, but through the help and the business brought to him by the friends and relatives he had scattered around the county, his practice grew.
And those long days in the office on Sheriff Road in Seat Pleasant eventually gave him the background he needed to become an assistant state's attorney.
That background wasn't all legal. In part. State's Attorney Marshall conceded recently.Taylor was hired because of his work for the Democrats in the 1962 campaign. But, Marshall added. Taylor was also hired because he was the best qualified man for the job.
Some people, however, disagreed with Marshall's assessment. A number of complaints, Marshall said, came in form quizzical citizens who asked, "Couldn't you find someone white?"
But, Marshall said recently, times have changed since the early 1960s when he and judge Femia had to call every restaurant in Ocean City" to find a place where they and Taylor could eat during a Maryland Bar Convention. "We finally just showed up at a restaurant and they didn't kick us out," Marshall said.
The memories of racism in the Upper Marlboro court house have begun to fade, according to Taylor, who mentioned instances where court-house personnel would refuse to call black attorneys "mister." He said there was at least one instance where he was called "nigger." He would not go into detail about the experiences saying "that was all in the past."
Taylor said he has chosen to forget the Jim Crow era because "things have changed in the county."
He said he could remember a time when black people had only a few ways to express themselves. He said: "Some people chose to walk in the streets, other chose to shout from platforms and some just put their best boot forward to show there was no difference except skin color."
Taylor leaves no doubt as to which category he places himself in. He decided to become a lawyer when he was 13 years old. He said he knew a neighbor who was a lawyer "and he seemed to be pretty comfortable."
At various times during his pursuit of this goal, Taylor worked as a mailman, a used car dealer, a short-order cook and an oilman for a railroad. He said his father died when he was 10 year-old and his mother "had to pass for white" and work as a saleswoman in Baltimore to support the family of three boys.
One brother is now a Maryland state police lieutenant and the other is a foreman for a concrete pipe factory.
Taylor said his fascination with cars began when he was a child. "if you had lived in the country all your life and cars were the only source of transporation . . . you would know why I love them."
Taylor ows a Rolls Royce, a 1950 Packard and a Ford LTD.
Taylor's friend, Judge Femia tells the story about Taylor's first Rolls Royce. According to Femia, Taylor had just bought the luxury car and "Was only washing it with Q-tips" so he would not damage the paint finish. But, he loaned the car to his daughter and she took it to a car wash.
When his daughter returned the car, there were nylon brush marks all over the fenders, Femia said.
"I almost had a fit." said Taylor, who added that he had loaned his car to his daughter so she and her husband could drive to Georgia.
It is also Femia who tells the story about Taylor and his brown lunch bag.
"There was a time back in 1963 when he couldn't eat lunch with us. Jimmy would brown bag it when we went to the hotel. We didn't even think about the restaurant being segregated." said Femia.
"We literally dragged him into the Marlboro hotel. The waitress looked at us coming and said, 'I know integration was coming . . . but I didn'tknow you were brining it."