I was only a few months on the job when I covered the sentencing hearing of a serial rapist in Baltimore County Circuit Court. To this day, it remains one of the most emotional hearings I’ve observed, with both the victims and the defendant in tears.
What I remember most, though, is the weight of the moment also seemed to choke up the judge.
“My only hope,” he said, “is (the victims) adopt the view that they’re not going to let the person who victimized them ruin the lives they have left.”
The judge that day was Dana M. Levitz, who died Wednesday at age 69. The friends and family Anamika Roy spoke with for our obituary noted how Levitz, a theater lover, commanded the courtroom like a stage. But in the times I saw him in action, he was never a diva hogging the spotlight; it was more of his presence in general, and his voice in particular.
His voice could be booming but also caring. It could go from exasperation with a lawyer to friendly and welcoming to jurors. But, as one of his law clerks told Anamika, there was never any doubt behind what he said.
Shortly before Levitz retired, I asked him if ever made a ruling he regretted. No, he said, because as a practical matter, a judge cannot afford to dwell on a ruling at the expense of the next case before him.
“You give it as much thought as you can give it before making the decision,” Levitz told me before he retired. “You do what you think is right and that case is over. Otherwise, your head will explode. I could not have survived in this job if I was second-guessing what I’ve done.”
No one will second-guess the impact Levitz had on the Baltimore County legal community. Here’s a few more stories Anamika could not fit into her obituary.
Never make people wait
Levitz believed in giving prompt responses to litigants and members of the public. Phone calls were to be returned immediately, letters were to be given a response immediately and motions needed to be ruled upon immediately, said former law clerk Ephraim Siff.
“’No one deserves to wait for when it’s convenient to the judge, you respond immediately,’ he said to me many times,” Siff recalled.
Still, Levitz never rushed to a judgment. But when he reached a decision, Levitz did not delay.
“If you’re convinced, there’s no making it look good,” Siff said of Levitz.
Baltimore County District Judge Sally Chester said she learned to be fearless from Levitz.
“It didn’t matter to him whether it was spitting on the sidewalk or a homicide. He was going to do what the law and the evidence said, regardless of what the criticism of him would be,” she said. “That’s his legacy, the law and the facts. I’ll do what’s right and I’ll accept the consequences.”
Who was Gus U. Fresser?
The Baltimore County Bar Association had a newsletter with a restaurant critic who wrote under the pseudonym Gus U. Fresser. The foodie would go to new restaurants around Towson and write reviews.
Dale Levitz revealed Thursday her late husband was the critic. “Fresser” means “big eater” in Yiddish.
“Dana had a great sense of humor,” Levitz said.