Former governor Marvin Mandel attended the courthouse naming ceremony.

Leonardtown, MD — Visitors entering the St. Mary’s County Courthouse in Leonardtown will immediately see something new. Just inside the main entrance is a wooden archway engraved with the words” John Hanson Briscoe Circuit Courthouse. The home of the St. Mary’s County Circuit Court, the state’s attorney and county treasurer was formally dedicated Friday in honor of the man who served as Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and later as a circuit court judge in the building. Briscoe died on January 1st of last year.

The idea to name the courthouse came from Circuit Court Judge Karen Abrams and was spearheaded in Annapolis by the county’s legislative delegation, Delegates John Bohanan, Tony O’Donnell and John Wood and Senator Roy Dyson, all of who attended Friday’s dedication.

Judge Abrams formally cut a purple ribbon. She said Briscoe’s family insisted she do it and she said she chose a purple ribbon because the family noted that Briscoe was always a sharp dresser and he loved the Baltimore Ravens.
After the ribbon was cut guests entered around the new archway and descended into the basement for a reception sponsored by the bar association and Briscoe’s daughter and son–in-law’s law firm.

A number of current and former judges and other politicians and civic leaders attended the reception, including former Governor Marvin Mandel and current Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler. Retired judges attending included Briscoe’s former law partners James Kenney and Marvin Kaminetz. Joining Abrams were her bench partners Michael Stamm and David Densford. Current District Court Judge Christy Chesser and retired judge John Slade were also in attendance.

At a brief ceremony Abrams singled out Del. Bohanan for taking her idea and running with it in Annapolis. The delegation presented Briscoe’s family with a framed copy of the bill allowing the naming and also the pen used by the governor to sign the bill.

Wood who is retiring at the end of the year noted that he was on the Judicial Nominating Commission that selected Briscoe for the circuit court position. He said the two played softball against each other in their youth.

Janice Briscoe-Baldwin thanked the attendees on behalf of her family.

The food for the reception was catered by Café des Artistes.

The bill introduced earlier this year by the county’s legislative delegation listed some of Briscoe’s many accomplishments:

• Elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1962, where he represented St. Mary’s County and served as Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, the Environmental Matters Committee, and the Ways and Means Committee before he became Speaker of the House of Delegates in 1973.

• He was instrumental in the passage of state civil rights laws, the expansion of Point Lookout State Park and the creation of Greenwell State Park and the College of Southern Maryland.

• He was respected for his powers of persuasion and mediation and served as Speaker of the House of Delegates from 1973 until his retirement in 1979.

• He was appointed in 1985 to the St. Mary’s County Circuit Court, 7th Judicial Circuit where he served with distinction until his retirement in 2002.

• He made historic and environmental preservation central tenets of his career.

• He spearheaded erosion mediation efforts to save St. Clement’s Island, the birthplace of Maryland.

• As president of the Historic Sotterley Foundation, Judge Briscoe dedicated himself to establishing Sotterley Plantation as a National Historic Landmark, and to preserving Sotterley Plantation as a vital public museum and educational site.