Try digitalPLUS for 10 days only $0.99


News Obituaries

Benjamin Lipsitz, 94, Pikesville attorney who defended Bremer

Benjamin Lipsitz, whose commitment to the spirit and letter of the law led him to defend a would-be assassin, a Nazi sympathizer and a craven murderer during a career that spanned more than a half-century, died May 10. He was 94.

"He was so fundamentally devoted to justice. He was Atticus Finch all over again," said retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge John Fader II. "To me, he was what lawyering and what representation are all about."

Lipsitz was chosen to defend Arthur Bremer, accused of shooting Democratic presidential candidate George Wallace and three others, including a Secret Service agent, at a Laurel shopping center in 1972.

The attempted assassination dominated radio newscasts as Lipsitz drove to his Baltimore office from a Towson deposition on May 15. As he recalled in a 2007 Sun interview, he knew he might be called on to defend Bremer but assumed a lawyer closer to the crime scene would be tapped.

That night, the phone rang in his Pikesville home. The case was his.

Lipsitz drove to meet his client at the FBI's Baltimore office and found Bremer curled up in the fetal position at the end of a hallway, surrounded by law enforcement officers.

"He was an interesting guy. Kind of sad, really. ... His family was bad news," Lipsitz recalled.

Bremer called his lawyer, "my only friend."

With his daughter, Eleanor J. Lipsitz, as co-counsel, he conducted a strong defense in Prince George's Circuit Court. News accounts at the time remarked on Lipsitz's style, humor and "grueling cross-examination" of the prosecution's expert witnesses.

"He left no stone unturned in defending him," said Eleanor Lipsitz. "We would get up in the morning, drive to Upper Marlboro and then it would be an intense time in court. Then we would drive our tired butts back to the big city and he would spend half the night preparing for the next day."

After a five-day trial, Bremer was convicted in 90 minutes. Lipsitz appealed the 63-year sentence and got it reduced by 10 years. Bremer was released with time off for good behavior in 2007 at the age of 57.

Lipsitz was born in 1919 at Franklin Square Hospital to Russian immigrant parents who fled during the revolution. He grew up on Winner Avenue, across the street from Pimlico Race Course, and attended Baltimore City College, graduating in 1935.

After a short stint at the University of Maryland, College Park, he joined the Army, served in World War II and was discharged as a technical sergeant. He went into a military surplus business and, when it folded, a friend suggested law school.

Lipsitz received his law degree from the University of Baltimore and was admitted to the bar in 1952. During the first 20 years of his legal career he was "mostly out of the limelight," according to a Sun profile at the time of the Bremer trial.

But Lipsitz's reputation within the legal community was established by that time.

In 1959, he unsuccessfully argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving privacy rights and warrantless entries by non-law enforcement officials.

As court-appointed lawyer in 1964, Lipsitz represented James McCloskey, an inmate at Maryland's Patuxent Institution, who alleged that he was denied by prison officials the right to send anti-Semitic letters to elected officials and civil liberties groups.

The Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected McCloskey's claims, but lauded Lipsitz for taking the case even though he was Jewish: "With high fidelity to his duty as an officer of the court, the attorney has urgently and ably presented McCloskey's contentions that he has an absolute right, even in the circumstances of his confinement, to express his beliefs ... As was said of Voltaire, the attorney, who must strongly disagree with McCloskey's anti-Semitic opinions, rushes to the defense of McCloskey's right to hold and express them."

In 1991, Lipsitz again took a difficult case, defending Steven Oken, who sexually assaulted and murdered a Baltimore County newlywed before killing his sister-in-law and fleeing the state to murder another woman. Oken was executed for the Maryland murder in 2004.

"He took cases that no one in their right mind would take because he believed that everyone deserved to be represented," said Eleanor Lipsitz. "He made sure the prosecution played by the rules."

In 1999, he was honored by the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service for his extensive free legal service.

"No matter what he tried, he was as good an attorney as you'd ever want to see," Fader said. "He was always prepared, always knew the law and always knew how to talk to a jury. He was your father, your rabbi, your parent, your bartender, exuding a manner that jurors just nodded their heads, 'Yes, Mr. Lipsitz.' "

When not buried in the law, Lipsitz delighted in helping to coach his granddaughter's Little League baseball team, taking flying lessons, reading history and cheering his favorite baseball team.

"Oh my God, he was a Yankees fan and my mother was furious that he could root for anyone but the Orioles," said his daughter, laughing. "There were some unkind words said when the Orioles played the Yankees."

His wife of 70 years, Eleanor (Plugge) Lipsitz, died in 2012. In addition to his daughter, Lipsitz is survived by granddaughter Christine S. Ramapuram and great-grandson Terrence L. Pickron II, both of Northern Virginia. Services were private.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • May obituaries [Pictures]

    May obituaries [Pictures]

    See past obituaries in the Baltimore Sun here. Find the full obituary under "Related Links" below the photo. Search Death Notices | All Baltimore Sun obituaries | Notable deaths in 2012 | Notable sports deaths

  • Sister Mary Rebecca Elkins

    Sister Mary Rebecca Elkins

    Sister Mary Rebecca Elkins, a Sister of Mercy who trained as a nurse and held health care positions at hospitals in Georgia and at what is now Mercy Medical Center, died Tuesday at Stella Maris Hospice of complications from multiple sclerosis. She was 90.

  • Russell A. Scott, truck driver

    Russell A. Scott, truck driver

    Russell A. Scott, a retired truck driver and Army veteran, died May 8 of esophageal cancer at his North East home. He was 56.

  • Rosearl V. Julian, homemaker

    Rosearl V. Julian, homemaker

    Rosearl V. Julian, a homemaker and widow of former Baltimore City Councilman Dr. Emerson R. Julian Sr., died May 10 at Northwest Hospital of complications from gastrointestinal disease. She was 88.

  • Lorraine B. Stills

    Lorraine B. Stills

    Lorraine B. Stills, a veteran Baltimore public school educator whose career spanned more than four decades and who had been selected as Teacher of the Year, died May 11 at her Crownsville home of pancreatic cancer. She was 67.

  • Robert D.H. Harvey

    Robert D.H. Harvey

    Robert D.H. Harvey, a career Baltimore banker who led the effort that resulted in the founding of the old Maryland National Bank and later served as chairman and CEO of Maryland National Corp., died Saturday of congestive heart failure at his Towson home.

  • Harold L. Kirkwood, engineer

    Harold L. Kirkwood, engineer

    Harold L. Kirkwood, a World War II veteran and retired State Highway Administration senior engineer, died Thursday of cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Columbia. He was 89.

  • John F. Gardiner III, insurance executive

    John F. Gardiner III, insurance executive

    John F. Gardiner III, who retired as president of Potomac Basin Group Associates, died Wednesday of complications from hyponatremia, a blood disorder, at his Severna Park home. He was 63.