For Danny Long, life chapter closes, another begins

Judge Daniel Long. (Brice Stump Photo)

As he was packing mementoes of his 26 years as Circuit Court Administrative Judge Daniel M. Long took from his office shelf a small plaque reading, “It is what it is.”

After 26 years on the bench, Long’s career changed at the end of December when he was officially “retired” from the bench as he neared the mandatory state retirement age of 70.

“It is what it is,” he said, with a soft smile.

“I was 42 when I was sworn in,” he recalled, “and it really does feel like it was just yesterday. Now I am 69. I think I stayed so long because it was easier to keep working than filling out all the forms to enter retirement.”

Long has always distinguished himself for looking years younger than his age, a judicial version of late TV personality Dick Clark’s kind of perpetual youth.

Yet, as the year ended, Long knew this chapter of his life was closing and another was beginning. “It is a bit of a melancholy experience, cleaning out the drawers and packing things up, but I have been approved to sit as a retired judge, or as a ‘senior judge’ as the state now calls it. I can sit on the bench in all four counties of the Lower Shore and five counties of the Upper Shore.”

His uncle, the late Somerset County Circuit Court Judge Lloyd “Hot Dog” Simpkins, was also a senior judge. Long filled the position on the bench when Simpkins retired in 1990. Long’s second cousin is retired Wicomico County District Judge Scott Davis.

Long’s father, the late Robert “Biggy” Long, served in the Maryland General Assembly. It was then that his son got the “political itch.” He began his legal career in the law office of the late Henry P. Walters in Pocomoke City from 1974 to 1988, and was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1983, serving District 38 until 1990.

As an administrative judge, he was based in Princess Anne but responsible for the judges and courtrooms in Somerset, Worcester, Wicomico and Dorchester counties.

Long was voted one of 10 most effective members of the Maryland House of Delegates in 1989. Over the years he has held numerous judicial committee positions and was named Judge of the Year by the Maryland State Bar Association Litigation Section in 2012.

Credit to the clerks

He had come a long way since his job as a Somerset County Public Schools sixth-grade teacher in 1971.

“I have really enjoyed almost every day of my career on the bench. Good law clerks over the years have made this job so much easier. There have been many, like Kristy Hickman who served as State’s Attorney for Somerset County; Jimmy Sarbanes, now a Wicomico County Circuit Court judge; David Taylor, now a judge in Colorado; Laura Robinson, now a District Court judge in Anne Arundel County;  and Trish Coletta, currently an assistant State’s Attorney in Wicomico County. Law clerks are very special to judges, they work with us every day,” he said.

“It’s been a challenge to serve as a judge in a small county, because I know so many people. Some I grew up with, and many are relatives. It was a challenge, too, for my two children; they were in the spotlight, sort of like being a minister’s child. Things were expected out of them that probably shouldn’t have been. People are always looking at the behavior of children as well as myself, so I have to be careful about what I say and do as well,” he said.

“You have to be apolitical, which was hard for me because I was raised in, and as an adult involved myself in, the political arena.”

Even in the earliest days of his days on the bench, Long said, he was ever watchful of becoming “full of himself” by becoming infected with “black robe fever.”

“It’s easy to be consumed by the power of the position,” the judge said. “I’ve tried hard to stay grounded. The clerks at the courthouse do not hesitate to tell me when I’ve made a mistake, and I have encouraged that over the years, and that’s really good. My friends keep me grounded and are frank enough to tell me if I’m getting carried away with myself because they grew up with me and know about, and remember, my misdeeds,” he said, with soft laughter.

The Downtown Plaza incident

In his college years, a “misdeed” had Long coming before a judge in Wicomico County. It was the case of the Stolen Christmas Balls.

“Three of us from college thought taking the balls off the holiday trees on the Downtown Plaza and taking the big, wonderful, beautiful ornaments back to campus and decorating our trees was the thing to do,” he said, “but for some reason the police on the Plaza didn’t think so.”

Long, about 19, ended up in court.

His punishment was to help Plaza workers “untrim” the trees after the holidays. “I remember it was the coldest day of the winter and I was outside taking down decorations. I was freezing.

“Lou Carmean was my probation officer and he was supervising me,” Long recalled. “When I graduated from law school, Lou gave me a sterling silver Christmas ball. I still have it.”

When he applied to be a judge in 1990, Long recounted the legal aspects of the incident on his application.

“There had been legal issues involving my children as they were growing up and while that issue is painful for children and parents, in my case it taught me to be more tolerant and understanding, and I learned life lessons. Every judge brings his life experiences to the bench and I think that is real important. The important thing is to be fair and impartial,” he said.

“The challenge of a one-judge jurisdiction in a small county is that you often run into people, even family, in the courtroom that you’ve known over the years. It’s often difficult to see them in a courtroom setting.”

“I’ve tried speeding ticket appeals to death penalty cases. It’s a sobering moment when you are putting your signature on a piece of paper, a death warrant, that’s ordering someone to be put to death.”

With the close of 2016, Long had tidied up his office, keeping some mementoes, clearing out dated files.

In late December, Gov. Larry Hogan appointed Long as chairman of the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board, a 25-member board that oversees the implementation of Maryland’s comprehensive criminal justice reform law.

Long said he is looking forward to working with the committee and serving as a senior judge.

What to do in retirement was a concern, Long said.

“I don’t play golf or tennis. I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. I’m too old and ugly to run women,” he said with laughter.

A good sense of humor has always served Long well. As retirement approached, he shared a bit of levity with his colleagues.

“I’ve had some interesting job offers. Someone has offered me a job as a truck driver and Capt. Harold “Stoney” Whitelock, of Dames Quarter, said he thought he could get me a job dredging on a skipjack. Some others said I’d be a natural as a greeter at Walmart. I’m considering my options.”

What he is looking forward to is a less confining schedule.

“I’m probably involved in more things now more than I ought to be, but I’m looking for more flexibility in my scheduling now. I’ve got a great wife — who taught school for 30 years in Somerset County — and she’s always supported me. And, yes, she’s kept me grounded. I have been introduced as Barbara Long’s husband,” he said with laughter. “All and all, ‘It is what it is.’”

 

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