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Administrative law judge rubs elbows with the stars as a movie and TV extra

Lou Hurwitz

Lou Hurwitz has been an administrative law judge for more than 21 years.

But he’s also been a lab technician. And a police sergeant. And a low-ranking staffer in the U.S. Senate. At least, he was until those scenes got cut.

Hurwitz has appeared as a background extra in a handful of programs — including the 1999 film “Liberty Heights,” which tells the semi-autobiographical story of director Barry Levinson’s childhood in Baltimore, as well as two episodes of “Homicide: Life on the Street,” a ’90s TV police drama filmed in the city.

In June, the 55-year-old Baltimore native filmed scenes for “Game Change,” an HBO movie based on a book about the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign written by two political journalists. The film is set for release next spring.

Though Hurwitz is accustomed to taking center stage in the courtroom as a judge with the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings in Hunt Valley, he said he enjoys the opportunity to take a supporting role and blend into the background as an extra.

“There are times when you know that only you will ever know that’s you,” he said. “Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the usual role and just be one of many — get picked out for something that’s fun in a movie and just be pure background.”

But Hurwitz’s unusual hobby doesn’t stem from a love of the performing arts. He did a bit of acting in high school, he said, but intended to pursue a legal career. In fact, it was the law that led him to his first movie role.

At 21, while in his last semester at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Hurwitz interned in the state public defender’s office before enrolling at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

On the last day of his internship, a film crew happened to be shooting scenes for “The Seduction of Joe Tynan,” a 1979 political drama starring Alan Alda and Meryl Streep. The Baltimore City Circuit Court building was being used in the film as a U.S. Senate building. Hurwitz said he and a fellow intern asked their supervisor if they could stop by the casting call.

“We sat around this room and people came in and looked around, and every once in a while they would say, ‘You and you, come with me,’” Hurwitz said. “My friend got picked first. He was the body in the body bag because he was the right size of the actor, Melvyn Douglas. And then I got picked a while later.”

Hurwitz played a Senate staff member who walks behind the stretcher carrying the body bag out of the building. The pair got paid $3.50 per hour to be available for that scene, which they did “over and over, down the hallway, over and over” for the rest of the day.

“A month later, when the movie came out, I got excited and took my family and all that,” he said. “But we got cut! The story didn’t even go the way we filmed it. The senator, who was supposed to have shot himself, never ended up being in a body bag. And that was it. We were sitting there like, ‘What!’”

But that’s just the way it goes for extras, Hurwitz said he has learned. His name has never appeared in the credits, and sometimes he’s only visible “if you press freeze frame.”

“It happens all the time,” he said. “You never know if you’re going to wind up getting in the movie. … You never know when you go in there if you’re going to be that person picked to be really visible. This time [in “Game Change”] I’m almost sure that I will be.”

Because of confidentiality agreements, Hurwitz couldn’t reveal much about his role in the movie, which stars Julianne Moore and Ed Harris as then-candidates Sarah Palin and John McCain and is “a must- see for political junkies,” he said.

Hurwitz may be slowly accumulating his 15 minutes of fame, but that’s not why he does it. He said he has neither the time nor inclination to become famous.

Rather, he said the lighthearted hobby lets him take a step back from his professional responsibilities and gives him “an inside peek” behind the scenes of popular programs while rubbing elbows with their big-name Hollywood stars.

As a judge, Hurwitz hears cases on everything from child support disputes to driver’s license suspensions, and said making the final ruling is a lot of responsibility. So as an extra, he said, he’s more than willing to let someone else call the shots.

“In my job, you’re dealing with issues that are serious and have a big impact on people’s lives, and I like to think I have a life outside of that,” he said. “For example, at work it’s not a place to joke around a whole lot, and this is just a healthy break from that.”