ANNAPOLIS – The tale was one of “an estranged wife, desperate to free herself from a marriage gone stale, leaving a trail of false clues and staging her husband’s death so as to make it appear a random accident.”
The teller was no mere scribe. And this latest release from a master storyteller is not available in bookstores.
Who done it? Maryland Court of Special Appeals Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr.
Moylan wasn’t writing a novel. His stories are true, and they’re written in the court’s official opinions – a venue more accustomed to dry recitations of legal axioms than Shakespearean references.
In his latest work, Hricko v. State, released Wednesday, the true story of Steven and Kimberly Hricko’s marriage turned murder reads “like a steamy novel,” according to an e-mail circulating around his office.
But the opinion, in which Moylan agreed with the lower court’s first- degree murder conviction of Kimberly Hricko, likely will be one of his last. Moylan will retire Dec. 14 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
According to Stacy McCormack, one of Moylan’s loyal law clerks, his swan song is also his best.
Using quotes from William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoyevski and Robert Burns, among others, Moylan tells a tale of lust and law at a time when, as he writes, “the domestic skies had been brighter.”
“There appeared at the edge of the crowd, like Darcy in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or Rhett Butler’s dark stranger from Charleston, an enigmatic new figure,” wrote Moylan of the 23-year-old man who stole the attention of Kimberly Hricko. They became lovers.
Hricko, disenchanted with her husband and entranced by this ‘dark stranger’ 10 years her junior, killed her husband by injecting him with poison and setting him on fire. And she did it during a dinner-theater murder-mystery weekend at a St. Michael’s resort that was supposed to be a romantic Valentine’s Day weekend designed to heal their marriage.
In Moylan’s version of the tale, the characters are not “the defendant” or “the appealant” as they are in the opinions of other judges. Hricko is “Kimberly,” her lover is “Brad” and their relationship “reached the combustion point. . . (where) she virtually lost all semblance of control.”
The words just flow for Moylan, said Susan Clark, an administrative aide, who has been taking dictation from Moylan for nearly 19 years. Moylan won’t touch a computer and doesn’t use any notes, she said. “He’s amazing, it just comes right out of his head.” But Moylan is much more humble about his writing. “Some cases just write themselves,” he says of the Hricko case, which he describes as a British-style Agatha Christie murder.
Each special appeals judge is responsible for writing about 100 opinions each year, 15 to 20 of which are reported and become part of the common law of Maryland.
While unreported opinions will have a maximum audience of three readers, said Moylan, reported opinions are read by “generations yet unborn.”
“You feel like you’re writing for posterity,” said Moylan.
Moylan was born in Baltimore on Dec. 14, 1930. He drew his love for the English language from his parents, who were both teachers, his father also a judge.
Moylan graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1952 and later received his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law. He was elevated to the appeals bench in 1970, and has served on the Court of Special Appeals with every judge who ever served there, a total of 47, since Maryland’s intermediate appellate court was only established in 1966.
Oh, 46 judges, actually, as Moylan called back to point out. He can’t serve with himself, he said. Word guys like Moylan never lose their attention to detail.
Moylan has also been a teacher, lecturer and author, specializing in the Fourth Amendment and criminal law. He is known for dressing up and acting out difficult-to-understand legal concepts.
A self-proclaimed imitator of some of his teaching schemes, Byron L. Warnken, said of Moylan’s methods, “It’s part of who he is.”
Warnken, a criminal law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said Moylan, “has been one of my legal heroes for three decades.”
“He has a rare gift of being able to present technical and legal issues in a very unique and interesting way,” said Joseph F. Murphy Jr., Court of Special Appeals Chief Judge.
Murphy said it’s hard to strike the right balance between what’s appropriate literary allusion and what’s inappropriate. “He is like a very good carpenter,” said Murphy. “He knows not to hammer in the extra nail that’s going to break the board.” -30- CNS-9-28-00