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Jonathan Shurberg, activist, attorney, political guru, dies at 54

Jonathan Shurberg (Courtesy of Edward Kimmel)

Jonathan Shurberg (Courtesy of Edward Kimmel)

Montgomery County lawyer Jonathan S. Shurberg, whose community activism endeared him to the downtrodden and whose election-law expertise was sought by legislators and counties, died Thursday after a long illness. He was 54.

“His political knowledge was encyclopedic,” said U.S. Rep. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Md. “He was just an extraordinary enthusiast of Maryland Democratic politics. I feel his loss sharply.”

Shurberg was on “the cutting edge” of politics with his blog “Maryland Scramble,” which covered the state’s political scene with an insider’s knowledge and more than a little snark, Raskin said.

“Maryland Scramble was an indispensable resource for everyone,” added Raskin, who represented Shurberg in Congress. “He was part of a new wave of engaged political journalists and organizers who use the internet as a way to motivate and organize people.”

But Shurberg, a Silver Spring solo practitioner, did not just sit on the political sidelines. He ran a vigorous but ill-fated campaign for state delegate in 2014, losing in the Democratic primary to William C. “Will” Smith Jr.

“At times he was a rival and other times he was a critic,” said Smith, now a state senator. “But he was always a friend and always a gentleman.”

Smith also noted the “largesse of his heart,” citing Shurberg’s pro bono support for victims of housing and other discrimination.

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, on whose board Shurberg sat, stated in a Facebook post Thursday that “Jonathan brought joy to the many people whose lives he touched and he gave so much to progressive causes in Maryland. We are so grateful to have had him as part of our community and our thoughts are with his children, his family and his many friends in this difficult time.”

As an attorney, Shurberg represented state Sens. James Brochin and Delores G. Kelley in their unsuccessful challenge to the legislative redistricting that followed the 2010 Census and left their seats in jeopardy. Brochin and Kelley, both Baltimore County Democrats, held onto their seats in the 2014 election even after Maryland’s top court upheld the redrawn districts.

“He took on a very gutsy case,” Brochin said of Shurberg. “No one else was willing to take it on. We were taking on the establishment, the people who drew those most interesting lines.”

‘Fighting for people’

Shurberg also represented Montgomery County in its failed effort to stall a petition drive by the Fraternal Order of Police, which was opposed to a 2011 ordinance that rescinded the union’s right to collectively bargain over day-to-day operational decisions. Shurberg had argued in vain before the Maryland Court of Appeals that the Zip codes of petition signers must be accurate for their signatures to be counted.

Shurberg criticized the court’s decision as “opening the door to cheating.” Though he lost the case, the ordinance ultimately prevailed as Montgomery County voters approved the measure in the ensuing election.

Kevin Gillogly, a political consultant to Maryland Democrats, said Shurberg “had a profound impact on people” and “really appealed to our better nature.”

“He always was taking the side of those who were disenfranchised and tried to empower them,” Gillogly added. “He was fighting for people.”

Shurberg died five years to the week after his wife and law-school sweetheart, Rebecca Lord, died from thyroid cancer at age 47.

Raskin, the congressman, taught constitutional law at the couple’s alma mater, American University’s Washington College of Law. Lord served as political director of Raskin’s first – and successful – campaign for the state Senate in 2006.

On Thursday, Raskin recalled Lord joking to him that she went to law school because “she wanted to find a nice Jewish lawyer.”

“That was her goal and they found each other,” Raskin said. “It’s a great love story between them. He was smitten with her immediately.”

Shurberg is survived by the couple’s two sons.

Funeral services are being planned.

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