Roy M. Ellis, 81, who served as a magistrate judge in D.C. Superior Court for 12 years and who practiced law in Washington and Maryland for 28 years, died May 31 at Washington Hospital Center, following a stroke.
Judge Ellis was appointed a D.C. hearing commissioner, now called a magistrate judge, in 1985 and served until 1997, when he retired. He heard a broad range of cases involving criminal and civil matters -- probation revocations, arraignments on murder and other serious charges, small claims and family issues, such as child support.
He, like other magistrate judges presiding over arraignment hearings, was often the face of the judiciary for people encountering the court system for the first time.
Several former colleagues described Judge Ellis as being "a very no-nonsense kind of guy" who was "fair-minded, knowledgeable and well-liked" and informed by his long private practice.
"Becoming a magistrate judge was a high point in his career. It was fulfilling for him," said retired magistrate judge John King, who clerked in Judge Ellis's law office and then practiced with him. "As a lawyer, you work for yourself, your family, your client. As a public servant, you are working for your community and trying to make some kind of contribution."
Roy Maynard Ellis was born in Washington and graduated from Dunbar High School in 1940. He started at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, but World War II interrupted his studies. He served in the European theater in the 777th Field Artillery Battalion.
After the war, he graduated from Tufts University in Massachusetts and, in 1951, received a law degree from Boston University.
In 1952, he began practicing law in the District with the firm of Mitchell, McCormick, Ellis and Shorter. From 1962 to 1969, while maintaining his law practice, he served on the Board of Veterans Appeals of the Veterans Administration and the Board of Appeals and Review of the District of Columbia.
After being admitted to the Maryland bar in 1970, he practiced at Ellis and Hamilton in Silver Spring. Throughout his career as a lawyer, he handled mostly civil cases.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. knew Judge Ellis for 30 years and was opposing counsel when they both practiced law. Then-attorney Ellis was a "people's lawyer and a professional in all respects," Dixon said.
He recalled being on the opposite side of domestic relations cases with Mr. Ellis. "These cases can very easily become extremely emotional," he said, "but that didn't happen with him."
He was a man of even temperament, sharp wit and keen intellect, family members and friends said. He was an advocate who became an arbiter, who saw justice from both sides.
"Being able to step up from advocacy, to see that the whole system works, to show that justice was done from both sides" -- that's what being a judge meant to him, his wife said.
He also was a lover of modern jazz and the sounds of the Count Basie orchestras and Oscar Peterson groups. He enjoyed reading, especially espionage novels, and was a dedicated Washington Redskins fan.
A homebody, he relished whiling away the weekend relaxing on his screened-in back porch.
For more than 50 years, like his father before him, he was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He also belonged to Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington.
His marriage to Dolores Jackson Ellis ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 32 years, Patricia Jeter Ellis of Washington; four children from the first marriage, Roy Arthur "Chip" Ellis of Washington, Consuelo "Connie" Brown of Silver Spring, Rodney Ellis of Alexandria and Phyllis Ellis of Greenbelt; and a brother, Patrick Ellis of Mitchellville.