Gilman School - Baltimore, MD
Member, Har Sinai Congregation - Baltimore, MD
Graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Johns Hopkins University in 1950
Judge Hammerman's otherwise polished image was tarnished in Feb. 2000, when a 17-year-old student at Gilman School told an audience of 450 people — including Judge Hammerman — at a school gathering that he had a "dark, deep secret."
He said four years earlier, in a shower room at Hopkins after a game of tennis, Judge Hammerman gave him inappropriate glances. "For years," the student said, "I have been haunted by these events. He did not touch me, but he made me feel extremely humiliated."
Table of Contents:
- Ex-teacher receives life in rapes of his student (07/22/1995)
- Congressional Record: Tribute to Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman
- Unjust accusations against Hammerman (11/02/2000)
- Despite Detailed Letter, Judge's Suicide Baffling (11/15/2004)
- Death leaves many orphans (11/19/2004)
- His Final Verdict (11/19/2004)
- 'Pandora's Box' (12/10/2004)
- Letters to the Editor (12/24/2004)
- Kudos For Courage - By Vicki Polin
- Reaping Sorrow - By Caroline Goldsmith
- For What Purpose? - By Dana Mark Levitz
- Wet Idea - By Robert H. Katzen
- Outraged - By Jerry Sachs, Lewis Noonberg, Herb Better and Jerome Schnyderman
- Let Him Rest - By Alan Cohen
- Inexcusable - By Dr. Michael Andorsky
- Smudged - By Joe Pachino
- Black Eye - By Sonia Looban Greenspon
- Gutter Journalism - By Louis Berney
- Tarnish - By Janice Gelfand Weinstein
Ex-teacher receives life in rapes of his student
By Kate Shatzkin
Baltimore Sun - July 22, 1995
Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman sentenced Merzbacher, 53, to four life terms for rape and statutory rape for the abuse of Elizabeth Ann Murphy, a Cockeysville woman who was Merzbacher's student at Catholic Community Middle School in the 1970s. He also received a 10-year sentence for perverted sexual practice.
"I have always regarded teaching to be the most honorable profession of all," Judge Hammerman said. "For all of us to face a moment such as this is a tragedy for the entire community."
He noted that he had tears in his eyes listening to the tortured testimony of Merzbacher's wife, Gloria, as well as to Ms. Murphy's statement of how Merzbacher's crimes had indelibly marked her life.
Referring to a parade of 22 witnesses who testified yesterday to Merzbacher's good character, the judge said, "There is no question in my mind that you have many outstanding qualities and gifts to offer. I don't doubt . . . your care and compassion for friends. This makes the tragedy even greater."
Merzbacher, his hair cropped short, appeared to have aged in the month and a half he has been in the Baltimore City Detention Center.
He spoke only for a moment. "I have just one short statement to make to the court, and that is that I am innocent," he said.
A jury convicted Merzbacher June 8 of the charges, which were brought to trial a year and a half after he was arrested.
After a daylong hearing that was charged with emotion on all sides, the prevailing mood was exhaustion.
Ms. Murphy, 34, wore a sad, weary look as the judge announced the life sentences.
Earlier, she had wept when Judge Hammerman said Merzbacher had robbed her of her childhood, and "a lot more than that."
Mrs. Merzbacher, the defendant's wife of 28 years, ran from the courtroom, despite the judge's admonition for all to stay seated.
She had begged Judge Hammerman to give her husband hope: "John and I are one person . . . He would not do these things."
Congressional Record: Tribute to Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman
Congressional Record Volume 144, Number 141 - October 9, 1998 [Senate] [Pages S12212-S12214]
Mr. SARBANES. Mr. President, I rise to acknowledge the unique and extraordinary contributions made to Baltimore and the State of Maryland by Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman who, this past summer, retired after thirty-seven years of distinguished service to our citizens and legal system. During his career on the bench, Judge Hammerman was a leader in court reform and the efforts to establish an effective yet caring system of juvenile criminal justice. These efforts were directed not only at changing the system, but also at exerting every effort possible to give young men in need the opportunity for academic and athletic development.
His remarkable commitment to the youth of Baltimore is most exemplified by the Lancers Boys Club which he founded 50 years ago and which greatly affected the lives of approximately 3,000 young men of all different backgrounds and races. Through his remarkable commitment, Judge Hammerman influenced several generations of young men whose leadership has affected every facet of State and national life.
``Bobby'' Hammerman, as he is known by his fellow Baltimoreans, served his community with exceptional dedication as a jurist but also, even more importantly, as a good and caring citizen. I want to take this occasion to express my own appreciation for his life of service and ask to have printed in the Record several articles from the Baltimore Sun and the Baltimore Jewish Times which chronicle his accomplishments.
The articles follow:
The longest-serving trial judge in Maryland history hangs up his robes today--and he is not happy about it. ``I'm not retiring. They're retiring me,'' says Baltimore Circuit Chief Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman.
After 37 years of deciding other people's fates and distputes, Hammerman says this choice is being made for him: He will turn 70 tomorrow, the mandatory retirement age for judges under Maryland law.
He sees little sense to being forced out because of his age, especially since he is fit enough to walk up the five fights of stairs to his countroom two or three times each day, he still needs only four hours of sleep each night, can beat 20-year-old opponents at tennis and plays an hours of squash five times a week.
He loves the work routine that begins at 5:30 a.m. and involves listening to hours of arcane legal arguments. ``I feel like every day is a new day, and every day is different. I've never felt tired, or bored at this job,'' he says.
Hammerman has asked Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Mack Bell to allow him to serve in retirement as much as possible as a part-time judge, a position that would mean ``specially assigning'' him to any courthouse in Maryland where judges are short-handed.
Bell says he intends to take Hammerman up on his offer. ``I think he's been a great judge,'' said Bell, who served with Hammerman on the Baltimore Circuit Court in the 1980s before Bell was appointed the state's top judge.
It upsets Hammerman that Maryland law will allow him to serve as a part-time judge for only one-third of any calendar year.
Hammerman, who is single, gives the impression of being willing to go just about anywhere to hear a case.
``I've always said that when my time is up in this world, I want it to be one of three courts: a court of law, a tennis court or a squash court,'' Hammerman said.
A graduate of City College, the Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School, Hammerman was appointed in 1961 by Gov. J. Millard Tawes to be a judge on the old Baltimore Municipal Court to decide traffic cases, neighborhood disputes and misdemeanor offenses. He was appointed six years later to the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, which became the Baltimore Circuit Court in 1983.
He spent his first eight years on the Supreme Bench presiding over the city's Juvenile Court and is credited with bringing the court into compliance with a landmark 1967 Supreme Court case, In Re Gault, that guaranteed juvenile offenders the same right to an attorney as adults.
Over the years, Hammerman has presided over some of the city's most publicized trials, including the 1995 jury trial for John Joseph Merzbacher, then 53, a former Catholic Community Middle School teacher accused of sexually abusing 14 students and other teen-agers between 1972 and 1979. Hammerman sentenced the former teacher to four life terms for raping one of the students.
In recent years, Hammerman said, the courts have been flooded with criminal cases--particularly drug cases. When he was appointed to the Supreme Bench there were 15 judges, he said. These days there are twice that many judges--and the courts are still swamped, he said.
``The drug culture just permeates everything we do here,'' he said.
In court, Hammerman developed a reputation as a strict, uncompromising no-nonsense judge, who appeared each morning on the bench at exactly 9 a.m. and expected lawyers to be just as punctual.
``He's very big on punctuality,'' said David Moore, a former law clerk who is now a Baltimore assistant state's attorney.
Many lawyers also say that Hammerman is prone to lose his temper, is often quick to make up his mind on a case and will dress down lawyers who either try to argue him out of his position or fail to show proper respect.
``He's never held me in contempt, but he's chewed me out.'' said Curt Anderson, a criminal defense lawyer, former state delegate and a longtime friend. ``It reminded me of being 17 again and being chewed out--it was that bad.''
Lewis A. Noonberg, another lawyer and longtime friend, attributes Hammerman's legendary short fuse to his work ethic and his competitive edge.
``He loves sports, and he loves to beat the pants off people half his age. He doesn't get any thrill out of beating me `cause I'm only 10 years younger than him,'' said Noonberg, 60.
But more than anything, he says, he values his reputation for honesty. So he says it offended him when he was charged with leaving the scene of an accident after a fender-bender outside the Pikesville library on Reisterstown Road on April 5, 1997.
The driver of the car who reported the accident, Ronnie N. Albom, said publicly after Hammerman was cleared of the charge on Sept. 22, 1997, that his position as a judge helped him win the acquittal in Baltimore County District Court, a charge that Hammerman vehemently denies.
Hammerman said that there was no accident and no damages, that he did not know the judge who acquitted him and that he turned down an offer to have the case dismissed if he would pay the $77 in damages to Albom.
``For one thing, there was no accident. Second, I didn't leave the scene; that's how they got the information that they later used to file these false charges,'' Hammerman said.
Although as a judge he has often been in the public eye, Hammerman may be best known throughout the city for his work as adviser to the Lancers Boys Club, a high-profile civic organization for teen-age boys established by three childhood friends in 1946. The club, which boasts Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and numerous other prominent people as members, has been the judge's pet project ever since.
Hammerman has used the club to steer 3,000 boys to civic activism through activities such as tutoring in schools, working in soup kitchens and participating in community cleanup drives. The club encourages members to study in school, play sports and strive for success and rewards them with overseas trips, dinners and lectures that have included celebrity guest speakers.
In retirement, Hammerman says, he probably will spend more time on club activities, lining up speakers, corresponding with members and making arrangements for trips, dinners and other events.
Anderson, who joined the Lancers when he and Schmoke were students at City College, praises Hammerman for his club work.
One can only imagine how crestfallen Chief Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman will feel when his alarm goes off at 3:52 a.m. on July 17, and he remembers he's not due in court. For July 17 is his 70th birthday, which means it's also the first day of his retirement, a status he finds about as appealing as a dip in a frozen lake.
``I'm not retiring,'' Judge Hammerman says, indignantly. ``They're retiring me.''
With 37 years of service to the city of Baltimore, Judge Hammerman has the longest tenure of any judge in the Maryland court system. For a man who lives by a strict work ethic and personifies the core values associated with that ethic, every day off the bench will carry a certain emptiness.
That's why he's offering to hear cases as a retired ``recall judge'' in whatever local jurisdiction needs him, 12 months a year--even though by law he can only be paid for four months of service.
``I don't know anyone who has tried, and continues to try, harder than he does simply to be a good judge,'' says Baltimore Circuit Court Judge David Ross, a longtime colleague and friend of Judge Hammerman's who retired voluntarily two years ago.
``He gives a lot and he expects a lot,'' says David L. Palmer, a former Baltimore assistant state's attorney who now works in the law offices of Peter Angelos. ``He takes a lot of pride in the courtroom.''
At the luncheons and dinners planned in his honor in the coming weeks, the vigorous, whitehaired jurist will be lauded as a man of intellect, industry and integrity. No doubt he also will be teased about his tennis game, his fondness for iced tea and Rold Gold pretzels, and his fastidious nature.
On the bench, he is Chief Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman, a stickler for detail and a force to be reckoned with. The first week on the job, every trial lawyer in town learns two cardinal rules about the Hammerman court: be on time and be prepared. Those who have incurred his wrath are probably still smarting from it.
In his private life, though, he is Bob Hammerman, a sports enthusiast who attends Smashing Pumpkins concerts and shares his cluttered den with a giant Mickey Mouse doll. At 11:25 every evening, the Harvard Law School graduate opens a pint of Baskin Robbins ice cream and sits down to watch the sports segment on the Channel 2 evening news. About halfway through ``Nightline,'' he reaches the bottom of the container and calls it a night.
At precisely 3:52 a.m., his alarm goes off, and he begins another day. He's at the courthouse by 5:30, when even the pigeons are still sleeping. A lifelong member of Reform Har Sinai Congregation in Upper Park Heights, Judge Hammerman blows the shofar, or ram's horn, every Rosh Hashanah. For the past 25 years he also has blown the shofar during Ash Wednesday services at Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Catholic church in Towson. Although he says he never set out to be a role model, Judge Hammerman takes pride in exemplifying certain character traits he holds dear:punctuality, diligence, honesty, respectfulness and generosity. As founder of the Lancers Boys Club in 1946, he has influenced more than 3,000 young men to strive for excellence.
A doting father figure to many current and former Lancers, he cheers them on at ballgames, follows their academic progress, and is always available for late-night phone calls when advice or encouragement is needed.
With his guidance, countless Lancers have attended prestigious colleges and professional schools and become outstanding business and community leaders. Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, state Del. Samuel I. ``Sandy'' Rosenberg and former Alex. Brown chairman Alvin ``Buzzy'' Krongard are Lancers alumni.
``I believe in discipline everywhere. Discipline is something we haven't enough of in our society,'' says the judge, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University in 1950.
``It isn't enough to do something that will simply pass muster, that is adequate,'' he tells his proteges. ``You must do it to the very best of your ability.''
In his first assignment, to the juvenile court, he took great pains to find something a young offender was interested in and ``use that as a building block,'' he says. One boy, who had brought a loaded gun to school, loved football, but there were no organized teams in his Southwest Baltimore neighborhood.
The judge arranged for him to play with the Randallstown Rams, and made attending practices a condition of his probation. The youth became a star of the team, and then-- with the judge's help--attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and went on to college.
It's difficult to imagine a profession for which Judge Hammerman is better suited. As a judge, he can use his brilliant mind to serve mankind, but in a secure, controlled environment where he's very much in charge.
``It has allowed me to use the habits I believe in, in constructive ways,'' he says.
David Rosenberg, a litigation partner with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Wright, Robinson, Osthimer & Tatum, clerked for Judge Hammerman in 1985-86.
``He really influenced me and had a profound effect on my career,'' says Mr. Rosenberg. ``I was always amazed. He never took the bench without looking at the file completely. And I was always struck by the fact that he let the lawyers have their say.''
Even though the judge has been very demanding of his law clerks, they praise him for teaching them what it takes to be a successful lawyer.
``His demands were not so much that Robert I.H. Hammerman was an important person, but the people who went into that courtroom were important people,'' says state Del. Robert L. Frank of Reisterstown, who clerked for the judge in 1984-85.
``In a society of me-first people, he has given far more than he'll ever get.'' Judge Hammerman, who never married, lives in the same Park Heights apartment he shared with his mother, the late Belle Greenblatt Hammerman. Every item in the home has a history he's eager to share, and which he recalls in great detail.
He opens the glass doors of a secretary to reveal the complete works of Tolstoy, Hugo, Dickens and Hawthorne-- classics he says his father, whose family could not afford to send him to college, devoured each night before retiring. Filed among the yellowed pages of those books are all of Judge Hammerman's school report cards.
In the same way that he recalls his happy childhood, Judge Hammerman looks back with pride on a stellar career as one of the city's most prominent public figures. ``I feel I have been very privileged, very fortunate, very lucky to have had this job,'' he says. ``I have no regrets. None.
``And it's a good way to leave.''
Unjust accusations against Hammerman
Baltimore Sun - Feb. 19, 2000
As a former vice-president of the Lancers Boys Club, I was deeply angered at the accusations made against Judge Robert I. H Hammerman by the unnamed student at Gilman school ("Gilman suspends its ties to Lancers Boys Club," Feb. 13).
Gilman School, my alma mater, handled this affair in an extraordinarily incompetent manner.
Any concerns the school had should have been raised privately with Mr. Hammerman.
Instead, the school allowed a student to make unsubstantiated public accusations that could destroy a man's credibility and his life's work.
Gilman should be ashamed of itself for the lesson it taught its students that day.
Michael E. Ginsberg Cambridge, Mass.
The writer was vice president of the Lancers Boys Club, 1992-1993.
I am not sure who acted more irresponsibly, the accusing boy's adviser, who approved the speech, the Gilman School, which wrote letters to parents and apparently notified the state's attorney's office or The Sun, which published the article.
Nothing in the article gave anyone the right to react as they did.
All it revealed was that four years ago the boy was made to feel uncomfortable when he showered with Mr. Hammerman after playing tennis. That was it.
Yet the school saw fit to suspend relations with the Lancers, write parents and notify the state's attorney. And The Sun saw fit to publish the article.
This is outrageous. The Sun and the Gilman School have forever tainted 50 years of Mr. Hammerman's good work.
Shame on the Gilman School and shame on The Sun.
Jerome A. Gross Baltimore
It is almost inconceivable that The Sun would lend its credibility to "Gilman suspends its ties to Lancers Boys Club" (Feb. 13).
The statement, made by a 17-year-old boy over a four-year-old incident, is flimsy, biased and might be the youngster's fantasy.
That the school and The Sun would risk offending a gentleman of Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman's stature is offensive to the thousands of parents who, like me, were proud and happy that our sons were Lancers.
Sylvia Bliss Mandy Baltimore
As an officer and longtime member of the Lancers Boys Club, The Sun's article on Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman upset me deeply.
If The Sun had talked with any of the thousands of current and former Lancers members, it would have discovered that Judge Hammerman is one of the most upstanding citizens of Baltimore.
Despite Detailed Letter, Judge's Suicide Baffling - Md. Jurist Wrote He Feared Illness
By Allison Klein
Washington Post - Monday, November 15, 2004
More deeply puzzling to friends and family, Robert I.H. Hammerman, 76, copied and mailed the letter to 2,200 people Wednesday, the day before the retired Baltimore Circuit Court judge shot himself in the chest.
Mourners surround Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg as he reads at Arlington Cemetery of Chizuk Amuno Congregation. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
"People are in shock," said Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, one of Hammerman's closest friends on the bench. "Nobody knew he was having problems. Bobby was not a person who confided in anybody. He was very much a loner."
Kaplan was among hundreds at a graveside service yesterday to honor Hammerman, a lifelong bachelor who served as a Baltimore judge for almost 44 years. Many came to ask why, to deconstruct the man they believed they knew before they received his letter -- the man who, even into his seventies, skipped up the marble stairs in the city's downtown courthouse two at a time.
Suicide, so often an impulsive act, did not mesh with Hammerman, whom friends and acquaintances described as anything but rash. Order, organization and rules of protocol were paramount in his life.
Lawyers who argued cases before him knew they had to follow a few rules: They were not permitted to be even one minute late, an unusual edict in the normally chaotic Baltimore Circuit Court. They were not to touch his bench. And they were not to go near the framed portrait of Hammerman's father -- who also had been a lawyer -- that the judge displayed on the left side of his bench.
Perhaps his meticulous nature is why Hammerman planned his death for almost a year and a half, according to the letter, and why he decided to offer such a public commentary on his reasoning.
Longtime Baltimore lawyer William H. Murphy Jr., a friend of Hammerman's since the 1970s, was one of those who received the letter. "How often do you get a letter like this?" Murphy asked. "I felt tremendous sorrow for him."
Hammerman's former secretary, Dana Amato, said she and her 14-year-old son were very close to the judge.
"I saw the man almost every day," said Amato, who said she last saw him Oct. 29. "He was in good spirits. He was very light. That's the point. There was no room for anyone to help him because there were no signs."
For more than four decades, Hammerman's presence loomed large in Baltimore's courthouse. When he retired from the bench in 1998 at the mandatory age of 70, he was the longest-serving trial judge in Maryland history. He helped settle civil disputes and protect the city from violent crime.
He was remembered as a man who regularly beat squash and tennis opponents 50 years his junior.
The Baltimore native graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1950 and Harvard Law School in 1953. He became a Circuit Court judge in 1967.
After retiring, Hammerman saw his former colleagues often, continuing to preside over trials as a visiting judge until shortly before his death.
But in the letter, he portrayed himself as a man who felt quite alone. His memory often failing him, Hammerman feared he was suffering from Alzheimer's -- although the disease was never diagnosed.
"The thought of Alzheimer's is dreadful to me. I would need institutionalization," he wrote. "There are happily certain people who care about me -- but none able to care for me."
The letter described how desperately he wished for a heart attack so that he could die as his father had. "But my regular exams continue to show a very strong heart," he lamented.
And so, in his exacting style, Hammerman planned his suicide, going as far as obtaining a permit for a handgun and taking two training sessions at a police firing range so he would know how to shoot it properly.
Hammerman wrote that he crafted his suicide note in July 2003 at Dartmouth College's rare book library in Hanover, N.H., as looked upon a tree that he had planted in the name of his sister, Caroline E. Goldsmith.
"My deepest hurt at this moment is my dear sister, Caroline -- my only sibling -- 1 year and 8 hours older than I," he wrote. "I was her first birthday present."
He reflected in the letter on the long planning phase, which he described as a hardship, even though it forced him to place his affairs in order.
"Making the decision 16 months ago has had . . . one disadvantage. The disadvantage -- quite a burden to live with this, plan it and be fully active all the while in my two major pursuits -- the judiciary and the Lancers Club."
Hammerman wrote of the Baltimore-based youth service group he helped found in 1946. One of the most painful episodes in his life came in early 2000 after a Lancers Club activity, when a student at Gilman School, one of Baltimore's most prestigious private institutions, accused Hammerman of looking at him inappropriately while they were showering in a locker room after a tennis match. The judge denied acting improperly.
Friends who gathered yesterday at Arlington Cemetery of Chizuk Amuno Congregation preferred to remember the jovial and fastidious man who was punctual to a fault, a judge who fervently followed the rules of courtroom decorum.
His sister said that when she went to his condominium after his death, she found notes in each room detailing his best-loved items -- including a favorite trash can -- and an outfit he had worn as a 4-year-old. "Please treasure it," he wrote.
Hammerman planned out the memorial service, even writing instructions for Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, his friend, about how to proceed. On Nov. 1, Hammerman left Wohlberg a note that began, "In the unlikely event of my demise."
Wohlberg read aloud that note, as he was instructed by the judge. " 'You would have thought that my passing would have finally shut me up,' " Wohlberg read, causing the crowd of mourners to chuckle.
The judge said he wanted no eulogies.
After the reading, Hammerman's pine coffin with a single red tulip atop was lowered into the ground.
The people who knew the judge best still don't know why a man who didn't seem to care what others thought of him would craft such a letter and send it to more than 2,000 people.
In the middle of the letter, though, Robert Hammerman seemed to try to answer the question himself.
"Some may say of me that it is an act of a coward," he wrote. "So be it. It is so easy for one outside the ring to tell the fighter how to fight his fight."
Death leaves many orphans
By Michael Olesker
Baltimore Sun - November 12, 2004
|Judge Robert Hammerman (1967)|
For years, Hammerman ran his old high school's Hall of Fame, and tenderly nurtured it, and zealously guarded its standards. He performed a sweet ritual of remembrance at each year's ceremonies. In the big school auditorium, with the whole student body listening, he recited "In Flanders Fields," the immortal World War I poem. He did it not only to cite the awfulness of war - he was recalling all of the departed ghosts of all our yesteryears.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blowThe gun that took Hammerman's life was fired yesterday, and it was Veterans Day, and so the words of "Flanders Fields" came quickly to mind when the suicide note arrived. It said he started planning this 16 months ago, on a visit to Woodstock, Vt., "the idyllic little town I first encountered as a teenager."
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Shadows from youth
He always held on to the sunlit traces of his youth - even, it turns out, when their shadows led him directly to his end.
He blamed the suicide on health. His mother's life ended with macular degeneration; Hammerman's eyes were failing. His mother had Alzheimer's. "She could see nothing and knew nothing," Hammerman wrote. "Alzheimer's has attacked me. ... And although I have functioned reasonably well, of recent date in my various involvements, the slope is there with me on it."
Hammerman's father died after his 10th heart attack. "I have lived," the judge wrote, "to the month, six years longer than my father - and that isn't right. I don't hold a candle to my father as a person."
The past never went away. It stirred him, and it haunted him.
"Who knows what demons were inside him?" Robert Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, said yesterday. The allusion was clear enough. Four years ago, in a highly publicized speech at the Gilman School, a student said he felt uncomfortable when Hammerman allegedly glanced "inappropriately" at him when they showered after a tennis game.
"Listen," Embry said yesterday, "I can't think of anybody who devoted more time to setting high goals, and gave greater guidance to young people than Bobby Hammerman did."
Echoes of Ulysses
In his final note, Hammerman remembers John Pentz, his English teacher at City who introduced him to Tennyson's "Ulysses" - a poem, Hammerman writes "of the ancient warrior who has fought and conquered much, but the mantle had to be turned over to his son."
Hammerman had thousands of surrogate sons - and, in later years, daughters, too. They were the City College kids, and his Lancers Clubs, which he ran for nearly 60 years and helped produce uncountable numbers of Baltimore civic leaders. The Lancers were known for superior athletic teams, and for public service. Just last Sunday, they held their annual fund-raising walk for area shelters for women and children.
But his great love was the law. He served as a judge for 43 years, and ran a formal, no-nonsense courtroom, and gloried in the nuances of the justice system. One pictured him at night, the lifelong bachelor, sitting home and studying the law purely for the love of it.
Yesterday, when he heard the news about Hammerman, attorney Stephen Sachs said, "Oliver Wendell Holmes said it's possible to live greatly in the law. Not every judge does that. I think Bobby Hammerman did."
A phone call, a letter
Hammerman called me a couple of weeks ago and started talking about the latest Lancers project. He said he'd never sought any publicity but wanted me to know that, over the years, he'd brought some of the major figures of political life here to talk to the kids. Among them were U.S. Supreme Court justices, congressmen, mayors.
But then he changed the subject. He said he wanted my home address. "I'll send you something in a few weeks," he said.
"What's it about?"
"I don't want to talk about it now. The letter will explain everything."
The letter went out to 2,200 friends. It does not begin to explain "everything."
How does anyone make that final willful step? Why does a man who recited "In Flanders Fields" choose Veterans Day to end it all? Why does such a gentle soul as Bobby Hammerman choose such a violent exit? He writes, "At the outset, I decided on a gun. I never had one in my hands before. I obtained the permit and received two training sessions at the police range."
Across his 76 years, Hammerman treasured the living and revered the dead. Maybe he found poetic comfort in joining their vast ghostly ranks. In the City College auditorium, he used to recite from "In Flanders Fields":
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie ...
The obits say Robert Hammerman had no children. But the obits overlook the symbolic. He had thousands of children, and they are orphans today.
Date: November 25, 2004
If anyone has more information about this incident with Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman, please contact The Awareness Center.
His Final Verdict
By Joel N. Shurkin
Baltimore Jewish Times - November 19, 2004
One day in July 2003, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman sat in the rare books room at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and looked out of the window at a tree he had planted on campus in honor of his sister, Caroline. He stared for a few moments, steeled his resolve, then took up his pen and began writing his suicide letter.
Last week, on Thursday, Nov. 11, the day after he mailed a 10-page revised version of the letter to more than 2,000 people, and after 16 months of typically meticulous preparation, Bobby Hammerman, 76, walked outside of his Pikesville apartment at 7:30 in the morning, into the nearby woods, and shot himself in the chest. A bus driver for the nearby assisted living complex saw his body and called police.
Everyone who received the letter was shocked because they did not know of his anguish. He explained in the letter that he was probably going blind and was afraid he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. He could never allow himself to be institutionalized or become a burden to anyone, he wrote, so he decided to end his life.
Many of those who received the letter said they also felt honored that he thought of them at the end.
Such was the life he chose to end alone in the woods.
Judge Hammerman was the longest sitting judge in Maryland history, forced to retire by state law at the age of 70. He was perhaps best known as founder of the Lancers, a Baltimore youth club of national reputation.
He was the mentor to thousands of young people who now, as accomplished adults, unabashedly credit him with changing their lives.
"He became my older brother," said Jerry Sachs, one of the original Lancers, now special assistant to the director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. "He was a major influence in my life. I don't know where I would be without him. ... He adopted me. He was my moral and ethical compass.
"He was the older brother I never had."
Said Stuart Robinson, a Bel Air attorney who practiced before the judge and knew him from his teenage years: "The Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] says when you find a mentor or a teacher, you should stay with him. He was one of mine. I was blessed."
The Lancers' annual Walk for the Homeless, a social action event near to Judge Hammerman's heart, always starts on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University because Judge Hammerman asked a former Lancer, Jerry Schnydman, now executive assistant to the president of Hopkins and secretary of the university, to permit it. Mr. Schnydman said he wouldn't dream of declining a request from the judge.
Judge Hammerman's suicide was an extraordinary ending to an extraordinary life.
He was born in the Forest Park section of Baltimore, the son of Herman Hammerman, a real estate lawyer. He grew up on Granada Avenue.
When he was a student at Johns Hopkins in 1946, he had an unusual encounter with three 10- and 11-year-old neighbors. In a scene that sounds like something out of a Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movie, Jerry Sachs, Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard and Kenny Parker were walking down Wabash Avenue one sunny spring day, Mr. Sachs remembered.
"The three of us said, 'Wouldn't it be fun to start a club?' We thought it was a good idea, but we felt we needed someone older and wiser to be our adviser. Buzzy said, 'I know a guy who lives two doors down from me, and he sounds like the right guy.'"
So, they knocked on the Hammermans' door and asked to see "Bobby."
"He heard our story and then, in typical Bob Hammerman fashion, said, 'I'd like to give it some thought and I'll get back to you. Come back later.'"
They did in a few days and found that not only had Bob Hammerman agreed to take on the task but also had more ideas for the club than the three boys ever imagined, Mr. Sachs said.
The club originally was called the Corsairs and would later become the Lancers. It disbanded for a time while Judge Hammerman went to Harvard Law School (he graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Hopkins) and then resumed when he returned to Baltimore, becoming a major part of Judge Hammerman's life.
The Lancers initially were all Jewish boys from the Ashburton section. After a few months of meeting in the Krongards' living room, they met every Friday night at the Trinity Methodist Church, then at Wabash and Liberty Heights avenues. Judge Hammerman thought that was the best night to meet, although a local Orthodox rabbi accused the church of trying to proselytize the Jewish boys by luring them away on Shabbat.
"Not, for sure," said Mr. Sachs.
Judge Hammerman always scheduled guest speakers and set up community action projects for the boys. The club eventually expanded into other areas of the city, bringing in non-Jews as well. Many early members shared a connection with City College, the city's elite academic high school that the judge graduated from in 1946, and many went on to Hopkins. But the Lancers soon became a citywide Baltimore institution.
Boys joined the Lancers in middle school or high school, then left to go to college to be replaced by a new cohort. The experience as a Lancer often was life altering; many boys found themselves bonded in friendships, some now half a century old.
One day, Judge Hammerman announced to Jerry Schnydman that he thought that he and his friend, Herb Better, should appreciate music, and that they should go to the symphony. He bought them season tickets. Forty years later, Mr. Schnydman and Mr. Better and their wives still see each other at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
The influence Judge Hammerman had over the boys was so obviously beneficent that many parents, who might resent the contact, became his greatest supporters. Mr. Schnydman recalled that his father told him, "If Bobby Hammerman ever asks you to do anything for him or others, always say yes and do it." Hence, the charity walk always begins at Hopkins, and anytime Judge Hammerman wanted a Hopkins professor to show up for a Lancers talk, the professor showed up.
They were not the only ones to agree to speak at the Lancers. The list runs the full gamut of American life, from U.S. Supreme Court justices to chairmen of the Joint Chief of Staff, nationally known journalists, scientists, athletes, lawyers, FBI and CIA officials, Catholic cardinals, rabbis, congressmen, authors, military officers, the U.S. attorney general, corporation presidents, ambassadors, university presidents and actors.
Many of them told the young people they had heard about the Lancers and could not say no to Judge Hammerman.
"The reputation that the Lancers Boys Club has in this area is absolutely tremendous," Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at one meeting, "and the activities that you are involved in and your many accomplishments are remarkable. ... And I have to tell parents sitting on the side there that I probably just had one of the most wonderful and uplifting experiences that a person could have. What a great way to finish a busy day and a long week, to have the opportunity to have dinner with the officers and the committee leaders of the Lancers. I don't know how to express to you how impressed I was!"
Members have included former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg (D-41st) and actor Michael Tucker, all three of whom — legend recalls — were thrown out of the club for violating Judge Hammerman's conduct rules.
In 2000, the Lancers took in girls. The club now is open to any boy or girl in the ninth through 12th grades who wants to join. There are no requirements and no invitation is needed — just show up. They come from the city and all over Maryland, and the club even has had members from several surrounding states. The number of members usually runs about 100 at any given time.
"The purposes of the organization are to instill a set of values in the members, to broaden their cultural and intellectual foundation, to give them an understanding of the world around them, to instill in them a strong sense of commitment to their world, and to provide them with a wide range of opportunities which they otherwise might not have," a Lancers publication states.
Besides the walk, the Lancers are involved in raising money for scholarships, the sports medicine center at Children's Hospital, school tutoring, working with the elderly, environmental projects, Habitat for Humanity, soup kitchens, entertaining at nursing homes, helping school libraries, and collecting food and toys for the unfortunate.
The club now meets at Cross Country Elementary School in Mount Washington.
The Lancers, of course, was only Judge Hammerman's avocation.
He practiced law with the firm of Gordon, Feinblatt and Rothman after Harvard, and was appointed to the old Baltimore Municipal Court by Gov. Millard Tawes in 1961 to handle traffic cases and misdemeanors. In May 1967, he was appointed to the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, which became the Circuit Court in 1983.
He presided over the Juvenile Court for eight years, bringing it into compliance with a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the rights of juvenile defendants to have counsel. He was the judge at several high-profile cases, including the sexual abuse case involving John Joseph Merzbacher, a parochial school teacher.
He ran a tight courtroom, never letting anyone touch his bench and especially the picture of his father that was placed on the left side.
"He was a great judge," said Mr. Robinson. "He always let lawyers be lawyers. He treated clients and lawyers with dignity. He was especially good at being sensitive to jurors when the evidence might be upsetting or disturbing in criminal trials.
"He was a mentsch."
Judge Hammerman was forced into retirement in 1998 by state law. "I'm not retiring. They're retiring me," he said, clearly brokenhearted. He volunteered, as retired judges can do, to hear cases when needed, and worked 12 months a year around the state, mostly unpaid.
He spent spare time on the tennis or squash court, and until a series of injuries interfered, was known to beat men 40 years his junior. Whatever gentility smoothed the edges of his life abandoned him on the court, and many called him the most competitive man they had ever seen.
Judge Hammerman never married. His sister, Caroline Goldsmith, said she has no idea if he ever came close. He was too private, she said, and one did not ask such questions.
But once, she said, she remarked to him that she felt she had not accomplished anything in her life to match what he had accomplished in his. Looking at his sister, the mother of four, Judge Hammerman said that he thought the greatest contribution a person can make in the world is to raise a family.
"If anything," he told her, "I'm envious of you."
His retirement, however, was not entirely peaceful, interrupted by one moment of exquisite humiliation. In February 2000, a 17-year-old student at the Gilman School, which had a close relationship to the Lancers, told an audience of 450 people, including Judge Hammerman, that he had a "dark, deep secret."
He said that four years earlier, in a shower room at Hopkins after a game of tennis, Judge Hammerman gave him inappropriate glances.
"For years," the student said, "I have been haunted by these events. He did not touch me, [but] he made me feel extremely humiliated."
The student said he believed Judge Hammerman was a virtuous man with a "weakness" and was "so completely humane, living almost completely for others." He then asked the audience to give Judge Hammerman a standing ovation.
Judge Hammerman said he felt "betrayed" and denied any impropriety. He then spent time explaining to a reporter where he was looking in the shower room. Gilman suspended its connection with the Lancers for a few months but soon restored it. No criminal act was alleged and no charges were filed.
All the while, however, Judge Hammerman's health was failing. While visiting the pastoral little town of Woodstock, Vt., in 2003, where he spent some time as a teenager, he decided that his physical situation was too serious to continue living, and so he drove up the Connecticut River to Dartmouth, where he knew the president, and sat in the library to write his letter explaining his decision.
"Dear friends and family," he wrote. "I owe you an explanation."
In the draft mailed out to his friends and associates before his suicide, he wrote that waiting 16 months between writing the first draft and actually killing himself had both advantages and disadvantages.
"The advantages — plenty of opportunity (not completely fulfilled) to put a lot of matters in order. The disadvantage — quite a burden to live with this, plan it and be fully active all the while in my two major pursuits — the judiciary and the Lancers Club.
"On the outset," he wrote, "I decided on a gun."
He had never even touched a gun before, so he went to two firearm training sessions and obtained a license, he wrote. He bought a Taurus .38 special revolver. The reason for the suicide, he explained, was his health. He was afraid he would wind up in a nursing home or assisted living facility, "a fate I am not prepared to accept."
He had hoped he would die as his father did, from a sudden heart attack, or like his uncle, in his sleep. He was already six years older than his father was when he died, he wrote, and that "isn't right."
"I don't hold a candle to my father as a person," he added.
Judge Hammerman's mother lived to 82, but had macular degeneration, the most common form of blindness in the elderly, and Alzheimer's. "She became legally blind, and her Alzheimer's developed to the ultimate stage. She could see nothing and knew nothing," he wrote.
He was now, he thought, following her fate. He also had macular degeneration, a disorder that begins with blank spots in the center of vision. It had progressed to the intermediate stage.
"For over a year now, I see only wavy lines on everything that is straight," he wrote. While there was no certainty it would progress to total blindness, it was probable. His eyes also suffered from iritis, a painful inflammation of the iris.
But worst of all, he wrote, he was afraid he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Although he went to the best physicians he could find for his eyes, he never went to get his memory problems diagnosed, so he really did not know if it was Alzheimer's, but he was convinced that it was.
"All the symptoms are in place. For one who all of his life has enjoyed an exceptional memory (not an exceptional mind to be sure — just an exceptional memory) it has seen degeneration at a quicker and quicker pace for two or three years or so.
"It has been embarrassing and difficult to deal with in all aspects of my life. The most common things — every day — I find great difficulty with. Almost every day — and several times a day — I forget what day of the week it is. Almost every day I am way out on what day it is. I check it out and still several times a day I cannot remember it. With great frequency — many times a month — I forget what month it is. It is not uncommon for me to get the seasons mixed up. ... I always (or at least I think always) I catch my errors — but it does not stop them."
He would forget things that happened in the morning by the afternoon. Names would not be recalled. He mixed up appointments. He once called a woman and by the time she picked up the phone, he had forgotten why he called and had to call her back. He would have ideas for Lancers meetings and then be unable to recall what they were, only that he had once had the ideas.
"And to all this, in September, I thought it was May."
"Confusion is my daily companion," he wrote, "and I am in a constant state of worrying about my forgetfulness."
If it was Alzheimer's, he would end up in an institution, and he wrote that this was unacceptable. "In truth, it is breathing, not really living."
He then quoted the letter former President Ronald Reagan wrote when his Alzheimer's was diagnosed, about the slippery slope to darkness.
"Although I have functioned reasonably well of recent date in my various involvements, the slope is there with me on it." He had seen it happen to a friend, another judge, and that would not be his end, he said.
So, the conclusion was suicide.
People might call that a coward's way out, he wrote, but "so be it. It is so easy for one outside the ring to tell the fighter how to fight his fight. Over the centuries, so many thousands of distinguished, preeminent people have taken this step. Socrates was one."
He added that there were several other internal disorders he did not name plaguing his life.
He quoted from Tennyson and then added, "70 years of living — where I have been able to live it all to its fullness — is a blessing. I have been far more fortunate than I deserve."
His deepest hurt, he said, was what his death would do to his sister, one year older ("I was her first birthday present") and "the gentlest and noblest of all." She has a splendid family to support her, he wrote, and she should enjoy them.
"I love life deeply," he concluded. "There is so very, very much that I want to see unfold, but it is time to leave." He hoped for world peace and then signed off.
"My love always, Bobby."
Recipients of the letter were stunned.
"I just sat and stared at the envelope for 15 minutes," said Mr. Robinson.
Several people got handwritten notes accompanying the letter, mostly personal salutations. He urged his sister to grieve and then move on. He said he wanted her to live a vibrant life — smile and laugh when she could.
"I have a mission now," she said.
No one knew Judge Hammerman was planning his death. Several people who saw him the days before his death noticed nothing unusual, and none said they saw the kind of clinical depression that is so common among the elderly.
Only in the dim light of retrospect do they now see clues.
His sister was planning a trip to Israel this fall and was afraid to tell her brother because he would be insistent that she not go because of the danger. When she finally told him, he asked when she was planning to return. She said the end of October.
Instead of vociferously protesting ("I expected a tirade," she said), he left the room for a few minutes. He returned and she heard nothing more. She now suspects he was planning to kill himself earlier but waited until she returned from the trip.
Friends recalled one other memory. Judge Hammerman belonged to Har Sinai in Owings Mills. He was president of the brotherhood, according to the temple president, Donald Milsten. He donated a mosaic to the synagogue in honor of his parents. He also relished the role as the synagogue's shofar blower during the High Holidays.
A new rabbi at the congregation and changes in the bylaws added pressure to expand participation in the shofar blowing. Judge Hammerman uncharacteristically protested in a letter, and a compromise was reached. A large group would do the bulk of the ceremony; Judge Hammerman would have the honor of the final blast, the tikiah gedolah.
When the cacophony of the shofars ended, it was his turn.
For the last time, Judge Hammerman blew the shofar loud and clear and held the note for an astonishing time, Mr. Milsten remembered.
It was his farewell call.
Judge Hammerman was buried last Sunday, Nov. 14, in the Arlington Cemetery of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, in a plain pine box.
Judge Hammerman: An Appreciation
Like many who knew him, I was shocked and saddened to hear that retired Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman committed suicide this Veterans Day.
He will no doubt be remembered for his 40-odd years of service as a distinguished judge in Baltimore City, but his greatest legacy derives from his involvement with the Lancers Club, a community service organization he founded and ran for nearly 60 years. Every other Friday night during the school year, the club for high school students holds a meeting at which there is an inspiring guest speaker, often quite famous.
Lancers, which offers one of the few opportunities in Baltimore for students of all races and social classes to meaningfully interact, sponsors a number of charitable activities and events each year, most notably a walk for the homeless.
Although others have known Judge Hammerman longer and more closely than myself, it seems that I was in the special position of being the only Lancers alumnus at his last meeting on Nov. 5. Little could I have imagined the then-hidden significance of the judge's opening remarks, which were far longer than usual.
He reminisced at length over the history of the club, giving special attention to what he thought were its two best meetings. The first was that which featured Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who, Judge Hammerman pointed out, needed a special security detail ever since he penned Roe v. Wade. The second was that with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who drew the largest crowd in the club's history.
Having myself been an active member of the club until 1995, when I graduated from high school, I was fortunate enough to have attended the Blackmun meeting, and Judge Hammerman's wistful remarks, and all the more so his death, made me think back of my own time in Lancers.
How could I forget meeting basketball star Julius Erving, urban planner James Rouse, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor or pediatric neurologist Dr. Ben Carson? Where else could I encounter Oliver North, a salty-tongued Navy SEAL, or a minister who was convicted of bombing an abortion clinic? There were certainly worse ways for a teenage boy to spend a Friday night.
Though officially a community service organization, with hindsight I can now see that the club was fundamentally an institution of moral education. In exposing us to such figures, both famous and infamous, as well as in having us work at soup kitchens or tutor inner-city middle school students, Lancers was primarily about building character. Engaging in public service helped us develop the right sort of habits, while exposure to exemplars stretched our sense of the possible, and inspired us to achieve it.
When it comes to moral influence, though, one cannot forget the force of Judge Hammerman himself. To offer a personal example, I remember when I was a young member starting a newspaper for the club. When I took the first proofs to be printed, the owner of the offset press wanted our transaction to be under the table, to avoid paying taxes. Although obviously this was a very small matter, I couldn't help but think of Judge Hammerman, who could be as stern at a Lancers meeting as in the courtroom. What would His Honor think of my honor? Needless to say, to the printer's consternation, I ensured that everything was above board.
Yet the best evidence for the club's success at instilling virtue can be found in its legions of civic-minded alumni, such as former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the former executive director of the Central Intelligence Agency, A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard. In ways that are impossible to measure, it is ultimately our city, state and even country that have benefited from the judge's leadership.
I should note that at his last Lancers meeting, Judge Hammerman didn't just talk about the club over the years. In anticipation of Veterans Day, he recited the well-known World War I poem "In Flanders Fields," which expresses the tragedy of war from the perspective of those who have already died. Only now do I see the double meaning of his uttering the line "We are the dead," for he already planned to end his own life, apparently for reasons of ill health.
When faced with the grim message of Judge Hammerman's demise (which perhaps reflects a Roman Stoic's view of suicide), it is, I think, best for Lancers alumni and others to turn to Tacitus:
"Just as men's faces are frail and perishable, so are likenesses of their faces, but the shape of the mind is an eternal thing, one which you cannot hold on to and express through an artistic medium or skill, but by your own manner of life."
A former Lancer, Justin Shubow is a free-lance writer in Owings Mills.
Rites Of Passage
What do Jews believe when it comes to suicide? Phil Jacobs Editor
"For him who takes his own life with full knowledge of his action, no rites are to be observed."
Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman blew the tekiah gedolah shofar notes, helping the Rosh Hashanah worshippers at Har Sinai prepare for the days of judgment leading into Yom Kippur. It was the 43rd year that he did so.
What nobody knew then, except for Judge Hammerman, was that his own fate was already sealed. He wouldn't be included, by his own choice, in the Book of Life.
The issue of suicide through the years has been the focus of serious debate in the Jewish community. Do we sit shiva? Do we bury the suicide victim in a Jewish cemetery or on the cemetery's edge?
What most people agree on, however, is that there are two levels of suicide.
One level includes those in full knowledge of what they are doing when they take their own lives, and those who otherwise were considered in good physical and mental shape.
These are the ones who are generally excluded from rites such as survivors rending clothing or eulogy or even burial in the main part of a Jewish cemetery.
Then, there's the second level, or people who commit suicide who are under severe mental or physical pain. These victims are entitled to all that goes along with Jewish mourning customs.
"Originally, the generally held belief by rabbis was that there was to be no ritual rites for a suicide, nothing, no mourning, no tearing of clothing, nothing short of maybe the mourner's Kaddish," explains Beth Israel Congregation's Rabbi Jay Goldstein. "The explanation was God gave us life, and only God has the right to take life away."
Rabbi Goldstein went on to say that it was out of understanding for the devastation of family and friends that the rabbis historically tried to limit what they decided was a suicide in narrower terms. There was the person who commits suicide who gave advance notice of it, compared to the person who kills himself because he is unable to cope with his difficulties.
"The real general principle that applies today is that, clinically, we say most suicide comes from depression or temporary insanity," said Rabbi Goldstein. "It is prevalent to say that the person didn't know what he was doing because of depression, and therefore is accorded the full rights of a person who passed away under any circumstance."
Or as another rabbi added, "The reality is, we're not supposed to mourn and bury the person in a Jewish cemetery, yet we do, because we consider it an irrational act, and the person can't be held responsible for what he did."
Rabbi Bradd Boxman, the Har Sinai Congregation rabbi where Mr. Hammerman worshipped, said that his congregation is devastated over the loss. And at least as Jews are trying to understand what happened.
"Suicide is a sin," said Rabbi Boxman. "Life is the highest priority, and the legacy of the judge is terrible in that sense. On the other hand, we have a better understanding of the demons that would drive someone to such a terrible conclusion. Our judgment has to be coupled with a large dose of rachmones [compassion] for an individual driven to such a length. Also, remember shiva is for the living, not the dead. Shiva is something the family needs for healing.
By Phil Jacobs
Baltimore Jewish Times - December 10, 2004
Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman's well-planned suicide last month sent shock waves throughout the region and made headlines around the country. Judge Hammerman — a retired Baltimore Circuit Court judge, prominent Har Sinai congregant, longtime civic leader and founder of the prestigious Lancers youth club — was, if nothing else, a Baltimore icon.
But shock and alarm was how "Barry" described the reaction of his parents when he responded to the judge's suicide by saying, "Great, I hope there is a place in hell for him."
Barry, a member of the local Jewish community who requested that his identity not be revealed, said there are many individuals out there like him who have similar feelings about Judge Hammerman.
"I got really angry," said Barry. "This was a guy who looked at young boys, and everyone is saying how great he was."
In the mid-1980s, when Judge Hammerman invited him to lunch at a prestigious Johns Hopkins University dining room, Barry said he was both overwhelmed and honored. He was a 16-year-old Lancer and high school junior at the time. Barry said he thought it was an opportunity to talk to the judge about colleges, and perhaps use his name as a reference on college applications.
But instead of talking about higher education, Barry said Judge Hammerman asked him personal questions about masturbation and sexual petting. Now a businessman in his mid-30s, Barry said that other people in his age group also had similar experiences with the judge.
Judge Hammerman, who never married and did not have children, was found dead Nov. 11 in a wooded area near his Pikesville residence of self- inflicted gunshot wounds. He was 76.
Shortly before his death, Judge Hammerman mailed a 10-page letter to approximately 2,200 friends, family members and associates, detailing his 16 months of typically meticulous preparation for his suicide. He wrote that he was afraid he was probably going blind and in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Judge Hammerman's otherwise polished image was tarnished in Feb. 2000, when a 17-year-old student at Gilman School told an audience of 450 people — including Judge Hammerman — at a school gathering that he had a "dark, deep secret."
He said four years earlier, in a shower room at Hopkins after a game of tennis, Judge Hammerman gave him inappropriate glances. "For years," the student said, "I have been haunted by these events. He did not touch me, but he made me feel extremely humiliated."
Barry said he can corroborate that feeling all too well. And he said he felt badly that he did not come forward at the time of the incident. "I kind of felt bad about that," he said. "I felt I sort of let that kid twist in the wind.
"I knew other people in the Lancers [Judge Hammerman] played squash with," said Barry. "They knew that after you played squash with the judge, he made you shower. He wouldn't allow you to leave the club unless you showered."
And sometimes that meant the judge would shower in the same shower room or be in the locker room when the boys would undress, according to Barry.
"He also got us tickets to every event at the Capital Center," said Barry. "We wanted Capitals' playoff tickets, we'd get tickets. Concerts like the Who or the Rolling Stones, the judge got us tickets."
The Lancers, said Barry, would play basketball games at the old Capital Center prior to Washington Bullets games. Before one particular game, he said that he and a friend "were being smart asses, so the judge wouldn't put us in the game.
"After the game, though, he told me that I had to shower, even though I didn't play a second of the game," Barry said. "Everyone had to shower, he said, before you could change back into your clothes. We showered, and he watched us shower. I remember thinking I'm not showering in front of this guy anymore.
"I think he liked to watch us shower," Barry said. "He knew what he could get away with, and he knew he could get away with watching boys shower. You know how 16-year-old kids are. They are very unsure of themselves, they feel awkward about their bodies. Some kids hide in the corner of the shower. He'd stand there and watch.
"Is that illegal? No."
Barry also recalled inappropriate remarks at his lunch with Judge Hammerman.
"He asked me if I masturbate," Barry said. "He asked me if had a girlfriend, and where I touch her. Did he touch me? No. Is it illegal to ask a 16-year-old boy about his sex life? It isn't. But it is inappropriate. It is harassment. If a boss did this to his secretary, he'd be in trouble."
Barry remembered telling his mother about his experiences with the judge. "I don't think she knew what to do," said Barry. "I'm sure she was alarmed and upset. What do you do, where are you going to go?"
Even though Judge Hammerman is deceased, Barry's father, a Baltimore area businessman and Jewish philanthropist who knew the judge his entire life, said he feels "an anger towards him."
"There's a sickness," he said. "There's something wrong here. Too many times have we heard that he liked to see boys in the shower. If he was still alive, I would have gone to his apartment in Pikesville and asked him face to face to explain to me what this is all about. I think it is all very sad."
There was a line in Judge Hammerman's suicide letter that Barry said he considers a clue about his state of mind. The judge wrote about his fear of dying with Alzheimer's disease and dementia as reasons for his suicide.
"... For a good number of years," Judge Hammerman wrote, "I have also suffered two internal disorders, non-disease and non-life threatening — but quite difficult to live with on a daily basis. More recently there has been a third in this category, very difficult to live with and which in itself could lead to my permanent confinement."
Barry said he read something else here. "I think he had some serious demons," he said. "If you read between the lines, the man had problems. After reading this paragraph in his suicide note, it's clear to me that he must have gone over the line at some point. This was a respected judge. I don't think he wanted a Pandora's Box opened."
Does Barry realize the inflammatory nature of his comments?
"Yes, I do," he said. "But this is the truth. This is what happened to me, and I know it happened to others."
Added his father: "Hopefully, others will feel they can come forward now."
Baltimore Jewish Times - December 24, 2004
The following are letters to Phil Jacobs (editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times). They are a response to an article he wrote called "Pandora's Box in which Phil wrote regarding allegations made against Judge Robert Hammerman.
I have to admit that I am outraged when I read the letters. It appears that no one in Baltimore understands the ramifications sexual violence plays on our children. I wish everyone who wrote the letters would stop and try to put themselves in "Barry's" shoes. Can you imagine the horror of being a teenager and feeling sexually violated by a distinguished role model? Who would you go to for help? Who do you think would have believed him and done something to help?
Phil Jacob deserves an award for taking the courage to tell this story. How are things ever going to change if journalists are attacked in this way when they try to let our community hear the truth about someone we want to honor and respect.
It saddens me, that the only letter of support Phil received came from The Awareness Center. My guess is that because Phil took the courage to write this article, that other alleged survivors of Judge Hammerman might come out and start to talk about what happened to them too. I know it will take time. I'm sure they are all watching the responses The Baltimore Jewish Times is getting. But like in all of the cases The Awareness Center works on, we need to honor and respect those who come forward to tell their experiences, and we also need to honor and respect those who have the courage to publish them. This is the only way that we can start to understand what actually happened, and for those who felt violated to heal.
The following letters are the response to an article:
--------------------------------------------------------Kudos For Courage
I thank Editor Phil Jacobs and the Baltimore Jewish Times for the courage it took to publish the recent articles regarding Judge Robert I. Hammerman.
My heart goes out to "Barry" and the others who had the experience of feeling sexually victimized by a man who had so much power and control. It saddens me a great deal to see how badly our community needs to be educated on the symptoms and ramifications sexual violence plays on both children and adults.
My hope is that our community will be more open to offering support to those who have been violated, and do what it can to help those who offend to stop.
It's important to realize that even if an alleged offender has passed away, the violence he caused others will live on. To discredit someone who has been violated is a shameful thing.
The Awareness Center
My brother, Bob Hammerman, sowed kindness and generosity and hope to generations of people. Why should his grieving family and friends reap sorrow from you? I'm ashamed to be a subscriber.
For What Purpose?
I was disappointed to see the article questioning the character of Judge Robert Hammerman a short time after his tragic death.
Most disturbing was that the entire article was based on the feelings and impressions of an unnamed source, "Barry." All we are told is that "Barry" is a businessman in his mid-30s, the son of a Jewish businessman and philanthropist.
One might legitimately question Barry's motivation. If he truly believed Judge Hammerman to be a sick man who preyed on young boys, how could he say nothing for 20 years, knowing that the behavior was ongoing? What does he feel that he accomplished by coming forward with his feelings now that the judge is dead.
Barry's father says the purpose of Barry making these comments is that "hopefully others will feel they can come forward now."
For what purpose, one might ask?
Unquestionably, Judge Hammerman positively influenced the lives of hundreds of young people. He served the citizens of Maryland for over 30 years as a Circuit Court judge. One can only hope that decent, thinking people will base their judgment of Robert Hammerman on facts, not on the adolescent impression of an unnamed source.
Dana Mark Levitz
Regarding Judge Hammerman, the Jewish Times reported that he was experiencing increased vision problems ("'Pandora's Box,'" Dec. 10).
If his honor had vision problems throughout his life, it might have been difficult to determine where his eyes were focusing in a shower without his glasses. Having said this, I do not think it prudent for adults and children to shower simultaneously in the same facility.
Robert H. Katzen
With "Pandora's Box," the Jewish Times and its editor, Phil Jacobs, have demonstrated an incredible lack of journalistic judgment, responsibility and professionalism. Three weeks after Judge Hammerman's death, when he could not respond, the Jewish Times publishes an anonymous individual's account and interpretation of an event that, according to him, occurred more than two decades ago. Not content with that, the Jewish Times also opts to publish this anonymous individual's rank speculation about the meaning of what Judge Hammerman wrote before his death.
We expected better from the Jewish Times and could not be more outraged and disappointed. Its foray into unprofessional and scandal-mongering journalism does a great disservice to Judge Hammerman, the Lancers Club and itself. The four of us served as presidents of the Lancers in the '40s and '50s, and were among the judge's closest friends for more than 45 years. We assisted on occasion, and advised regularly as he worked tirelessly and continually on behalf of the Lancers' community. Speaking for ourselves, our families and hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, we know that we have been blessed by Judge Robert Hammerman's presence in our lives. His legacy of moral courage and assistance to others less fortunate is emblazoned in our hearts.
Let Him Rest
On Chanukah we celebrate a long-ago military victory and a triumph of Jewish morality over Greek paganism. Centuries later, the rabbis saw symbolic meaning of Chanukah in their struggles against their Roman oppressors. Yet, the Romans had their own moral principles, one of which was de mortuis nihil nisi bonum — say only the good about the dead.
How ironic that during Chanukah you would violate this basic principle of human decency regarding Judge Robert Hammerman.
I grew up a fatherless only child during the 1950s and '60s. While in the 10th grade, I joined the Lancers. Some of these boys were the brothers I never had, and I saw in Bob Hammerman a father figure that I never had. In the Lancers from 1965 to 1967, I never witnessed, nor heard about, the conduct alleged in your article and cannot rebut allegations of possible conduct in later years.
But it cannot be doubted that for nearly a half-century, Judge Hammerman selflessly, day after day, devoted himself to helping boys such as myself. None of the alleged conduct rises to criminal violation, and the judge was never convicted nor charged.
He can no longer defend himself from the allegations you have chosen to publish. He is dead, so let him rest in peace,
I was dismayed to see the low level of journalism to which the Jewish Times has sunk in its most recent article about Judge Robert Hammerman ("'Pandora's Box,'" BJT, Dec. 10). A gossip article passed off as news, based on innuendo by an unidentified source, about a man who cannot respond because he is dead is inexcusable.
Shame on editor Phil Jacobs and the Baltimore Jewish Times.
Dr. Michael Andorsky
I was a Lancer from 1966-1969, my son belonged during his high school years and my daughter is a current member. (I was happy to learn that Judge Robert "Bob" Hammerman made provisions for the club to continue.) I was also a summer camp counselor in 1972. Bob, as a close friend of the camp director, vacationed in Maine that year. Because the kids in my bunk were of Lancer age, he was assigned to us for a week. It was an exceptional experience for them and nothing even remotely untoward occurred.
I can't dispute the veracity of "Barry's" sordid story. But I wonder why this businessman in his mid-30s waited until now to tell it. I wonder why Barry's mother was alarmed and upset back then but "What do you do, where are you going to go?" If the allegations were true, the police perhaps?
I wonder why Barry's father says if Judge Hammerman "was still alive, I would have gone to his apartment in Pikesville and asked him face to face to explain to me what this is all about." Bob was alive for two decades subsequent to the allegations and could have been confronted in a site other than the Jewish Times, a month after he cannot respond.
Without fear of rebuttal, Barry's family alone can rest assured that they have successfully smudged the judge's legacy.
Why was it necessary to write a lengthy article about a deceased member of our community who gave of himself and supported good causes, but who was allegedly also a very troubled man?
Judge Hammerman was a leader and a fine person who did many acts of charity. It is reputed that great people frequently also have tragic flaws.
Our very wise sages stated unequivocally how wrong it is to speak evilly about others. They also advised us never to speak badly about the deceased. What possible good could there be in printing unproven hearsay and suppositions?
The article is shocking and a true black eye for the editor of the Jewish Times.
Sonia Looban Greenspon
As a journalist I feel most disappointed in the Jewish Times for its horrid decision to publish the article alleging impropriety on Bob Hammerman's part.
I will not question the veracity of the allegations lodged against Bob by the anonymous "Barry," the sole source of Phil Jacobs' article. When I was a Lancer, Bob initiated highly personal discussions with me, as well, although I did not consider them negative. If Barry genuinely was upset, I will respect his feelings and empathize with the hurt he endured. My only question is why he waited until after Bob was dead to air his complaints.
The decision to publish anonymous (and extremely hurtful) allegations is one that always should be weighed with the utmost sensitivity. Usually, responsible publications will not publish such anonymous charges unless they can be supported by more than one source. And journalists always have the responsibility, when leveling such allegations, to go to the person being attacked to get a response. In this case, Judge Hammerman cannot defend himself. Even more contemptible is that the allegations are being made by an anonymous source, someone not even willing, after Bob is dead, to put a name to his charges.
If Bob were still alive, and Barry and his father deemed him a threat to other young people, I can see the article as having some legitimacy. But what we have here is an anonymous source criticizing a dead man about incidents that allegedly took place two decades ago.
The Jewish Times truly should be ashamed of itself for engaging in such gutter journalism.
Regarding Judge Hammerman, the Jewish Times should be ashamed for reporting an alleged event by an individual who didn't even have the guts to reveal his name or to come forward with his "allegations" while the judge was alive to defend himself.
I have no personal connection other than my husband being a member of the Lancers in the early- to mid-1960s. I remember the days of my junior and senior high school gym classes in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the discomfort we all felt about taking showers with the gym teacher standing at the entrance. Still, I highly doubt all female gym teachers are lesbians (although we thought so). Similarly, I assume for guys.
Maybe the anonymous "Barry" and his father ought to re-examine their intentions and check out the demons that possessed them to inflame and tarnish the reputation of an otherwise highly respected, intelligent and compassionate human being.
Janice Gelfand Weinstein
by Andrew A. Buerger - Publisher
Jewish Times, Baltimore - December 17, 2004
"How could you?" "He can't even defend himself." Those were the angry phrases we heard over and over in recent days in response to the "Pandora's Box" story from last week. The story alleged that the late Judge Robert I. Hammerman was sexually inappropriate with a 15-year-old boy.
Interestingly, those were the same questions the editorial staff and I asked about Judge Hammerman himself and his actions. How could he violate the faith of the many kids and their parents who trusted him? How could he humiliate "Barry" a 15-year-old boy, and many other boys just like him? These boys couldn't defend themselves. Who spoke for them against this powerful man?
Few of the callers, e-mailers, or letter writers showed any compassion for the victim.
This was not a story we liked to write, and we know it's not a story you expect from your Jewish Times, a publication more likely to run stories about mitzvah projects undertaken by 13-year-olds.
Yet, it's our responsibility to educate the community about the people and things that affect our lives. In this case, we are informing the boys, many now men, who may have been victimized by the Judge's alleged actions that they aren't crazy. What happened to them happened to others. And it was wrong.
After "Barry's" father called, we corroborated his story. We heard from several other Jewish mothers — although being Jewish shouldn't be a factor — that their sons were made to feel uneasy about the strange relationship the Judge had with underage males. Because of the stigma of sexual abuse, especially in such a tight knit community, these other people wouldn't go on the record even with pseudonyms.
This was indeed a disturbing case, but we quickly reasoned that we had uncovered a pattern. In fact, since last week's article appeared, "Barry" has heard from peers of their similar experiences. Now he knows that he isn't alone; he isn't crazy, and it's OK to talk about this.
We, too, have now found more people with more stories. It wasn't an isolated child 20 years ago. It was still happening four years ago to a different set of boys.
So yes, we did run this story to help others, even knowing that many readers would disagree.
Still, our intention was not to hurt The Lancers, the Judge's family and friends, or even to upset readers.
Great leaders — despite their flaws — leave strong organizations behind them. The Lancers will survive this scrutiny, just as it did in 2000 when the allegations first surfaced.
I understand the ground swell of criticism. People are angry that we printed this about a man they revered. Yes, he did indeed help many boys through the Lancers.
Still, isn't it a bit like criticizing the press for revealing that baseball superstar Barry Bonds used steroids? After all, Bonds — who shares Hammerman's love of praise — is a hero to many children. His steroid use may severely affect baseball, our national pastime. Yet, Bonds abused our trust and damaged what he said he loved; the media was simply the messenger.
So I ask, where is the outrage against Judge Hammerman? Sexual abuse by definition is much broader than people realize. It doesn't have to involve touching. When a person in power abuses the trust of a child, it can traumatize for life. Judge Hammerman, with access to Ivy League college guidance counselors, lunches with Supreme Court Justices, and playoff tickets, violated trust and boundaries.
There's another important lesson here for parents. Sexual abuse does not happen only in rural towns amongst non-Jews. It, like all other ailments, happens in the Jewish community. Our parents must be aware that rabbis, Jewish coaches and even judges can do harm to our children. Most of all, listen to your kids.
Finally, our intention was not to embarrass the Hammerman family. We have a responsibility to write the truth about our community. Sometimes it's painful. We write about our Jewish federation's great work, and we also challenge it when it fails.
A respected man of power failed Jewish values and his people. The Jewish Times had to tell the painful truth.
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