Bennett E. "Bud" Bozarth, 61, a controversial former judge who sat on the bench for 17 years in more than nine Burlington County municipalities, died at his Delran home on Tuesday.

He was in remission from a long battle with leukemia and had multiple health problems, according to his family. Judge Bozarth also had a heart condition, which he cited as his reason for retiring from his court appointments in 1998.

He had a reputation as an uncompromising judge whose orders once led to a woman's being handcuffed to a bench for more than two hours for arriving late to court. The state Supreme Court publicly reprimanded him in 1992, saying he harbored an obsession with decorum and demonstrated a "draconian" adherence to rules.

His courtroom behavior was also blamed as the reason he was passed over for elevation to a Superior Court judgeship in 1988.

But he was well respected in legal circles for his sharp mind, his astute knowledge of the law and his ability to discern facts.

"We all knew him to be exceedingly brilliant," said attorney Mark Molz, who frequently tangled with him. "He was a fixture in Burlington County and a lot of us learned how to practice law from him."

Judge Bozarth also was a former prosecutor, public defender, a trial attorney and a solicitor for various towns. Former Pemberton Mayor Thalia "T.C." Kay, who hired him in the early 1990s to be the town's judge, said that after his retirement, he also handled police arbitration hearings. "He was multitalented," she said.

In a 1998 interview with The Inquirer, Judge Bozarth said he regretted some of his more controversial decisions, but still felt it had been important to maintain order in the court.

"There's considerable disruption that ensues from a failure to maintain order. People can't hear what's going on," he said.

Judge Bozarth had a hobby of finding organs for churches that were unable to afford them, and donated more than 200. He also founded the Rainbow Gospel Ensemble and would often perform at services.

"He was very spiritual," said lawyer Bill Menges, a longtime friend. "And he was very witty. I'm going to miss Buddy."

In his later years, Judge Bozarth played keyboard and sang with a rock-and-roll band called Rubber Johnny at bars in Riverside and Hainesport. He often regaled friends with colorful stories and wisecracks.

As a child, he attended Valley Forge Military Academy. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University and received his law degree in 1972 from Columbia University. He served as a captain in the Army Reserve.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; son Earl; daughters Josette Coyle and Sara; and a granddaughter.

Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. today at Christ Baptist Church, 950 Jacksonville Rd., Burlington, with a service at 10. Interment will follow at Odd Fellows Cemetery.

Contributions may be made to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey Foundation, 120 Albany St., New Brunswick, N.J. 08901.

Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.