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I. Duke Avnet, 90, civil rights attorney for 54 years


I. Duke Avnet, a prominent Baltimore civil rights and labor attorney who colleagues said always fought for the underdog during his more than 50 years in practice, died Dec. 16 of pneumonia at Howard County General Hospital. He was 90.

Mr. Avnet lived most of his life in Northwest Baltimore and moved last year to the Vantage House retirement community in Columbia. His practice was in downtown Baltimore from 1936 until he retired in 1990.

Friends and relatives said Mr. Avnet was skilled in all types of law, but mostly represented labor unions and the down-trodden.

"He took up for the little guy," said his son Richard Avnet of Columbia. "He frequently tried cases for no or little money."

The cases Mr. Avnet handled included representing a group of blacks and whites who tried to play tennis at then-segregated courts at Druid Hill Park and defending blacks during sit-ins in the 1950s and 1960s civil rights confrontations.

Although Mr. Avnet didn't win the Druid Hill Park case, the city was forced to improve the park's facilities for blacks and the tennis courts were later integrated.

"Duke was sure he was right with this case, and he pushed it, and he pushed it," said Sam Adams, a longtime friend. "His efforts then provided the pathway for blacks to use the park's facilities."

Mr. Avnet was instrumental in the integration of Little League baseball in Baltimore.

Friends and colleagues said Mr. Avnet was well-versed on the law and was a tenacious litigator.

Larry S. Gibson, a Baltimore attorney and political strategist, said he met Mr. Avnet while working as a law clerk in federal court.

"Back then, you paid attention to white lawyers handling civil rights cases," Mr. Gibson said. "He was genuinely concerned on the behalf of the persons he represented. He conveyed sincerity to the jurors."

Mr. Avnet enjoyed writing plays and short stories and was an avid golfer.

A native of Tanersville in upstate New York, Mr. Avnet received his bachelor's and law degrees from New York University and moved to Baltimore in 1936 to practice law.

Services were held Monday.

Mr. Avnet married Beatrice Silverman in 1933. She died in 1994.

He is survived by another son, Brian Avnet of Los Angeles; two sisters, Gertrude Arvan of Long Island, and Claire Krause of Westchester, N.Y.; and a grandson, Evan Avnet of Germantown.

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Pub Date: 12/25/98

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