Walter R. Tabler, a lawyer and retired director of the Maryland Office of Health Claims Arbitration, died of prostate cancer Friday at Gilchrist Hospice of Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 72 and a lifelong resident of Catonsville.

From 1980 until his retirement in 1993, Mr. Tabler headed the arbitration office, which hears Maryland medical malpractice cases.

"He was a colleague of many years," said Marvin Ellin, a malpractice lawyer who opposed creation of the office in the late 1970s and said he still sees arbitration as redundant -- duplicating a case that will go to court anyway.

"Walter made it about as palatable as possible," Mr. Ellin said. "In fact, I wrote a letter [to the legislature] saying the only thing redeeming about health claims arbitration is the fact that Walter Tabler is its director."

"He was absolutely a very competent, highly skilled lawyer. He not only knew law; He knew people."

"He did the very best to make it work," said Court of Appeals Judge Alan M. Wilner, the governor's chief legislative officer in the mid-1970s when the arbitration office was proposed in response to concerns about skyrocketing malpractice premiums. "And statistically, it did work. Most [claims] were resolved at that level."

Mr. Tabler was a nominee for judgeships on the Baltimore County Circuit Court and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. He was a guest lecturer at the University of Maryland School of Law, and a salaried lecturer on torts at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Of great importance to him was Alcoholics Anonymous, in which he would have celebrated 20 years of sobriety May 29, said his longtime legal assistant, Carol Waldhauser. Mr. Tabler was a speaker for AA throughout the area.

Born in Catonsville, Mr. Tabler graduated in 1941 from Catonsville High School and entered the University of Maryland College Park. While there, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and earned bombardier-navigator wings and a commission as second lieutenant, serving in the United States at the end of World War II.

Returning to the university, he earned a bachelor's degree and in 1947 enrolled in its law school, graduating with honors two years later.

Mr. Tabler's early law practice included work for the USF&G; and Liberty Mutual insurance companies, and serving as special assistant to the state Law Department and counsel to the Maryland Classified Employees Association, Union Memorial Hospital and the Maryland State Dental Association. He maintained a private practice in Baltimore.

He was a member of the American, state and Baltimore city and county bar associations, and was involved in many civic activities, including the Southwestern Mental Health Association and Hope House.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Catonsville Presbyterian Church, 1400 Frederick Road, where he was a longtime member.

Mr. Tabler and Miriam Ashton Moore were married in 1948. She died in 1981.

He is survived by three daughters, Barbara Anne Bradley of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Marjorie Elizabeth Sturgeon and Carol Lynn Crawford, both of Catonsville; two sons, Lawrence Moore Tabler of Catonsville and Walter S. Tabler of Seattle; and 10 grandchildren.

The family suggested donations to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center Oncology Center, 6701 N. Charles St., Towson 21204.

Pub Date: 4/28/97

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