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Judge Dana Levitz remembered as a ‘star’ of the profession

Judge Dana M. Levitz, Circuit Court for Baltimore County, MD. Portraits for his retirement story. Maximilian FranzThe Daily Record.

‘He was one of those star quality people that everyone respected,’ a friend said of retired Baltimore County Judge Dana M. Levitz, who died Wednesday at age 69.

Judge Dana M. Levitz, the youngest judge to be appointed to the Baltimore County Circuit Court in recent memory who was known for his legal acumen, mentorship and love of theater, died of a heart attack Wednesday. He was 69.

Levitz knew he wanted to be a judge at age 13, when he would take buses and streetcars to downtown Baltimore to watch trials at the city courthouse. He studied theater at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“He definitely was a star. He commanded the stage as he did in the courtroom,” said Dale Levitz, his wife of more than 42 years. The couple met as theater majors at UMBC.

Levitz graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1973 and became a city prosecutor. He moved to the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office in 1975, where he worked for a decade, including two years as deputy state’s attorney. He was appointed to the bench in 1985 at age 36.

“He was larger than life and he was one of a kind. He always wanted to be a judge and he got to be a judge. He was as good of a judge as there ever was,” said David Irwin, a longtime criminal defense lawyer in Towson who knew Levitz for more than 40 years.

The two shared a birthday and met as interns working in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office for Milton Allen.

“He was a fantastic prosecutor, maybe the best I’ve ever worked with,” Irwin said.

As a prosecutor, Levitz handled some high-profile cases, including the Warren House murders, where drug dealer Anthony Grandison ordered the murder of two witnesses at the Warren House Motor Hotel in Pikesville. Levitz tried the case with Irwin, who was a federal prosecutor at the time.

‘Never afraid’

Described by friends as a man with large stature and an even larger personality, Levitz was fearless on the bench.

“He wasn’t afraid to make a decision whether it was for the state or the defendant,” said Ephraim Siff, Levitz’s last law clerk. “If he did what he felt was right…he was never afraid to make a decision.”

When he became a judge, he was known for being tough but fair.

“There was no doubt who controlled that courtroom,” Siff said. “He was very stern but that can’t be confused for lack of care.”

In her years as a public defender, Baltimore County District Court Judge Sally Chester court-tried most of her cases, a surprising move for a defense attorney. But she believed in Levitz’s ability to be fair.

“There was never a jury as fair as Judge Levitz,” she said.

Baltimore County Administrative Judge Kathleen Cox recalled a difficult child abuse case Levitz presided over where he came up with the idea to get psychological counseling for the jurors.

“When he talked about it, it made perfect sense, but I never thought about anyone doing it. He cared a lot about how the system worked at all levels and he thought outside the box,” she said.

Levitz was often a resource for attorneys and judges trying to navigate difficult cases.

“When I was new, he was my go-to for difficult criminal law matters,” Cox said, who met Levitz when she joined the bench in 1999. “He had a wealth of knowledge and really good practical instincts.”

Softball and Broadway

Levitz was able to make seemingly complicated and dry subjects, such as civil procedure, which he taught at the University of Baltimore School of Law, seem interesting and straightforward, many who knew him said.

“You’d bounce an idea off of him and his approach left you scratching your head. ‘Gee, why didn’t I think of that,’” Siff said. “He didn’t just give you advice, but helped you understand it in a certain way so you know how to handle it the next time.”

Levitz didn’t have children of his own, but he had his law clerks. Siff was law clerk No. 20. All of Levitz’s clerks had a number and were introduced that way. Levitz had a reunion every year with his law clerks, and over the years they formed a fraternity, he said.

Levitz, a big foodie, had one ironclad rule: he took his secretary, law clerk, court clerk and court reporter to lunch every day. Those relationships with staff and other members of the bar were important to Levitz.

“He really bemoaned the fact that there’s a lack of fraternity today among the bar,” Siff said.

Levitz was a longtime coach of the circuit court softball team. They were undefeated and were called the “Ego’s” and everyone had No.1 on their jerseys, Dale Levitz said.

To encourage camaraderie in the Baltimore County Bar Association and to share his love of food and the theater, Levitz would organize an annual trip to New York City for dinner and a Broadway show, called the “Courthouse Cruise.” Defense attorneys, prosecutors, insurance defense lawyers would all come and not talk about work.

Funeral services will be held 11 a.m. Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.

“At his funeral, it will be like Ravens game. There will be so many people there. He was one of those star quality people that everyone respected,” said Owings Mills criminal defense attorney Leonard H. Shapiro, a longtime friend. “I’ve been doing this forever and there are very few people I would consider legal giants. People who really made a mark and really did it the right way. He was that guy.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to the Brady Urological Institute Development Office at Johns Hopkins or the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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