In his 40 years of practicing law, John Clapp worked in several specialties in Maryland, including criminal law, real estate litigation and domestic cases.
But for more than 20 years, Clapp, 66, also served as the attorney in some capacity for almost every municipality in Frederick County.
In his home north of Frederick Tuesday morning, Clapp pointed to a former colleague and retired Frederick County Circuit Court judge as a key reason he started serving many county jurisdictions: John “Hamp” Tisdale.
“I always said one of the best things of my career was joining up with Hamp Tisdale, and the second best thing was when he went on the bench,” Clapp said with a laugh.
Clapp said he worked with Tisdale for several years before Tisdale became a judge in 1995. Tisdale was working as town attorney for Myersville, Emmitsburg and other jurisdictions.
Tisdale recommended Clapp for his job, and Clapp provided legal advice and services to many county municipalities ever since.
He recently informed Rosemont, Emmitsburg, Myersville, Woodsboro and Middletown that he would retire on Oct. 1. Clapp said that he’s probably provided service to each of the smaller municipalities in the county except Mount Airy and Thurmont.
“I enjoyed working with the towns. They’re good people,” Clapp said. “The elected officials run because they really want to do a good job. They’re not in it for the politics. They’re pleasant people, they’re well-meaning.”
Multiple officials praised Clapp for his work, including Wayne Creadick, who has served as Myersville’s mayor for almost two decades.
“He was very easy to work with, and he helped me when I initially came into office,” Creadick said. “He really guided me and helped me understand where and when he would likely be needed.”
Middletown Burgess John Miller said Clapp had a wide array of expertise, which benefited the town greatly.
“He was very professional, and like any good lawyer, his first objective was to try to keep you out of court. So we appreciated that,” Miller said.
And Emmitsburg Mayor Don Briggs said Clapp was always available, no matter the circumstance.
“It was just the knack of being there when we needed him,” Briggs said. “Whether he was at the beach, traveling, it was just across the board.”
That was seconded by Rosemont Burgess Tom Watson.
“John always took the time to answer my questions and answer my phone calls,” Watson said. “I just can’t say enough great things about John Clapp.”
Rosemont, a village of just over 300 people, was where Clapp dealt with one of his more unique cases.
Eight or nine years ago, Brunswick officials told about 100 Rosemont residents they were shutting off their water service in roughly six months, because the water lines were not theirs and therefore not their responsibility, Clapp said.
Four Rosemont property owners, including Watson, filed a lawsuit against Brunswick in early 2009, The Frederick News-Post reported at the time. Residents were concerned that losing water service would be a public health issue.
Clapp said he and the residents also sued the Maryland Department of the Environment for not enforcing its laws. He added that in a countersuit, Brunswick officials included every Rosemont resident who had a Brunswick water account: about 100 people.
“It was a logistical nightmare for me because I didn’t have a large staff, like some of the bigger firms,” Clapp said. “So I was pretty much doing it myself.”
He doubted a similar issue would pop up again in Maryland.
“I had never seen and could not find any cases where a water service company essentially said to its clients, ‘we’re not going to provide you with water anymore,’” Clapp said. “I could not find a case anywhere that was directly on point in anything.”
Eventually, Rosemont and Brunswick reached an agreement where Frederick County would buy the water, and then sell it to Rosemont residents, Clapp said. It took roughly a year for officials to reach that agreement, he added.
He said he faced similar hot-button issues in Myersville and Emmitsburg. But even as he was serving almost every town, he estimated the caseload for towns reached roughly 40 percent. That’s because many towns like Rosemont and Woodsboro don’t require much legal assistance, he said.
Clapp’s career in law started when he graduated from the University of Baltimore’s Law School in 1979. He then practiced in condemnation and eminent domain cases in Rockville before moving to Frederick County.
His father, Robert Clapp, was also a lawyer, and he became a Frederick County Circuit Court judge in 1964, retiring in 1980. He died in 1997 at age 87.
John grew up with him and their family in the Thomas House at Monocacy National Battlefield.
Through the years, there’s been the obvious growth countywide, he said. That includes the Frederick County Bar Association. In his early years practicing, about 40 to 50 people were part of that group — now, it’s nearing 300.
Over the years, Clapp said his favorite part of serving towns and villages in the county was day-to-day change.
“Really, that’s what I found enjoyable, is you never knew what was going to be the issue of the day,” Clapp said. “As opposed to domestic law, it’s much of the same over and over again.”
Multiple town officials said Clapp was great to work with because of his professional and calm demeanor.
Clapp attributes that to how he was raised.
“I think practicing law does it to you,” Clapp said. “You can be an attorney who likes to get overly emotional and takes a position that ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ But I don’t think that helps. I think what helps is being able to see both sides, but still advocating for whatever side you happen to be on at the time.”