His career began suddenly and ended the same way. Stanley Y. Bennett was not a year out of law school in 1960 when he was appointed a Frederick County magistrate. On Monday, the Maryland Court of Appeals removed him from office, saying he had forged the signature of another District Court judge to erase a driving conviction as a favor to a friend.
The soft-spoken judge, well liked and respected by many local lawyers, was put on administrative duties in July after a state commission recommended that he be discharged from office. Bennett, 49, had virtually nothing to do, lawyers said, but he went every day to the new three-story brick courthouse in downtown Frederick.
On Thursday, however, Bennett packed up and left his chambers for good. "I don't have any plans," he said. "The question is now whether they'll take my license" to practice law. "That's what I was trained to do."
Bennett said he would accept the appeals court decision, but he maintained he is innocent and suggested he was "framed" by political enemies. However, he said he does not want to discuss his problems in public.
"I've been living with this for two years," he said. "I have said everything I can think of to say, to three different tribunals."
The first of these, a Frederick County grand jury, did not indict him. But the other two, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, and the state Judicial Disabilities Commission, said Bennett was asked in June 1982 by Marion (Pus) Rice to try to remove a negligent-driving violation from his 16-year-old grandson's record.
At the time, the court and commission noted, Bennett was in the midst of a bitterly contested race for a seat on the Circuit Court. Rice, a local Democratic Party chairman, was a major supporter.
Sometime after he spoke with Rice, the commission and court decided, Bennett forged the signature of Judge Mary Ann Stepler to a document that removed the youth's conviction. Stepler had originally convicted Rice's grandson and said she had done nothing to change the ruling.
Bennett denied he had anything to do with the document. He said Rice asked him to "check into" his grandson's conviction, and he said he passed on information about the case to Rice. He told investigators that, a few days later, he saw the court janitor put a similar document on a clerk's desk. The janitor, however, denied touching any such document.
Police experts said the signature on the document removing the conviction was a forgery and the document had abbreviations that Bennett, but not Stepler, typically used. The appeals court concluded that the evidence against him was "clear and convincing."
For several of the lawyers who practiced before Bennett in District Court, the finding was shocking. Some questioned whether Bennett was guilty, but most simply asked why he had done it.
"The problem is, for all of us, that we have to face the fact that the Judicial Disabilities Commission was 100 percent in saying that he should be removed," said lawyer Cleopatra Campbell. "That's devastating for people who wanted to see him stay."
Lawyer Edwin F. Nikirk II said those who know Bennett were fond of him and are "very upset about what's happened. A lot of lawyers think something else could have been done -- something other than a flat removal after 24 years. Perhaps a suspension, or some other sanction."
Bennett was just 25 and a year out of the University of Baltimore law school when he was appointed a trial magistrate in 1960. Some lawyers said the appointment was a political one: Bennett's father, the late Alton Bennett, was a former magistrate and a Democratic Party kingpin in Frederick County.
Still, they said, the appointment was a good one. Bennett proved an able magistrate, they said, and an able District Court judge when the magistrate system was abolished in 1971. "He has always been fair, very equitable," said Franklin D. Stillrich, an assistant public defender and president of the county's bar association, and Bennett had never been in trouble before.
Despite these descriptions of him as a fair judge, Bennett was passed over for promotion. By 1980 he was among the most senior District Court judges in the state, and the most senior in the 11th District, which consists of largely rural Frederick and Washington counties.
Yet in 1980, his colleague on the Frederick County bench, William W. Wenner -- who had served two years as a judge compared with Bennett's 20 years -- was appointed to fill a term on the Circuit Court. Soon after that, Stepler, who replaced Wenner, was appointed administrative judge for the district.
"It was mysterious," said Campbell. But some other lawyers said Bennett's early move to a judgeship may have been a problem for him: Because the District Court hears no jury trials, Bennett had virtually no experience with jury trials.
Whatever the reason, lawyers said, Bennett was clearly disappointed. He did not appear to get along well with Stepler -- the two worked side by side but rarely talked to each other. And in 1982, he decided to run an election campaign against Wenner, the new Circuit Court judge.
It was during that race that people began hearing rumors about the grand jury investigation into the judge. "This is a small town," said lawyer Alan L. Winik. "The state prosecutor's office had sent some people out here, and the gossip was that Judge Bennett was somehow involved."
One lawyer, who asked not to be identified, said he believed -- unlike Winik -- that Bennett could have been framed by political opponents. Bennett would have lost regardless, the lawyer said, but the rumors did not help. "It came up right in the middle" of the campaign, he said. "So people say, 'Where there's smoke, there's fire.' "
At any rate, Bennett was defeated in the primary by about 60 percent to 40 percent, and Wenner kept his seat on the Circuit Court. Immediately afterward, Bennett announced in court he would not hear cases involving about 20 lawyers who had publicly supported his opponent. At least one lawyer called it a "hit list."
But Winik -- who appeared on the list -- disagreed. "It wasn't a hit list," he said. "That's a cheap shot. It was because of the contested election. He felt uncomfortable hearing cases before those lawyers."
At any rate, the list lasted just a few days. After lawyers complained, Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney ordered Bennett to spend several days working in the District Court in Baltimore City, an arduous assignment that most judges try hard to avoid. When he returned, he said all lawyers were welcome to appear before him. Bennett, Winik said, showed no evidence of grudges against the lawyers who opposed him.
And among the lawyers, too, there also appear to be no grudges -- only disappointment and concern for Bennett's future. And there appears to be little anger, either, except from Rice -- the man blamed for drawing Bennett into his problems.
Rice maintains he did nothing wrong. Last week he said he simply asked Bennett if he could arrange a meeting for him with Judge Stepler, who, he said, would not return his telephone calls.
"I think somebody framed him," he said. " . . . I knew that family all my life. I know Judge Bennett was raised an honest man, and I know he wouldn't do anything like that. How they ever came up with that, I never knew. It's one of the damnedest dirtiest deals I ever heard."