In the interest of full disclosure, it must be reporteed that back in 1969 I appeared before Judge William M. McGrath in the Prince George's County Peoples Court and admitted, for the first and only time in my life, guilt to speeding. I had been trying to return too fast on the Beltway from an assignment that lasted after midnight in Annapolis to my home, then near Alexandria.
McGrath administered a marvelous, salty (or was it peppery?) minilecture to each of us who appeared before him. "No, Judge, no, I'll never exceed 65 again," one thought. President Nixon later reduced the speed limit to 55.
So here comes word that Judge McGrath died Monday at the age of 86 after a richly varied life that included his being a soldier in two World Wars, a Marine, a District of Columbia policeman, a lawyer who had served as an assistant D.C. corporation counsel, a dairy farmer, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and, for the last 12 years of his career, a judge.
Which brings us to the best story my colleague Richard Homan ever covered in McGrath's court -- and one that Homan, in the 1960s, couldn't persuade his editors to print.
A policeman, it seems, had arrested a youngster for public profanity. What, the judge asked, was the profanity? The policeman was reluctant to say, noting that there were women in the courtroom he wouldn't want to offend.
The judge pressed on, finally evoking the response that the kid had been threatened with either shaping up or appearing before the reputedly tough Judge McGrath and replied, "---- Judge McGrath."
A brief jail sentence ensued.