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Judge Marshall A. Levin, 83, served on city's Circuit Court


Judge Marshall A. Levin, who presided in Baltimore's Circuit Court over a historic asbestos-injury case that was the nation's largest mass trial, died Sunday of complications from a stroke at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 83.

He had been hearing cases for more than 40 years, as a magistrate and judge, and was presiding on a fill-in basis in Circuit Court until two weeks before his death.

"He just loved doing it," said the court's recently retired Administrative Judge Ellen M. Heller.

"I served with him on the Circuit Court, and I found him to be a tireless worker," said Maryland's Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Court of Appeals. "Some say the law is a jealous mistress, but he was devoted to it. He was always about improving the administration of justice. The benefits of what he accomplished as a judge we'll be seeing for years to come."

"He always worked hard at trying to reach the best results as possible. Nobody ever came away from a case with the idea that he didn't do everything possible he could to get it right," said Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr., chief of the Court of Special Appeals.

Judge Levin was born in Baltimore and raised on Brooks Lane near Druid Hill Park. His father, Harry O. Levin, was a well-known Baltimore attorney and state senator.

He was a 1938 graduate of City College and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia in 1941.

He interrupted law studies at Harvard University by enlisting in the Navy during World War II. After serving in naval communications in Europe, where he attained the rank of lieutenant, he returned to Harvard and earned his law degree in 1947.

Judge Levin later joined his father in the practice of law. In 1949, he was named an assistant city solicitor and later worked as a bill drafter for the city Department of Legislative Reference and research assistant for the Workmen's Compensation Board.

In 1948, he married Beverly Edelman, who was the daughter of Jacob F. Edelman, a Russian immigrant, labor lawyer and longtime City Council member. She died in 1997.

One of his early cases as a practicing attorney came in 1952, when he successfully represented the Urban League in a case against the Baltimore school board, which had barred African-American students from enrolling in the "A" course at Polytechnic Institute. The case resulted in the first racial integration of a public school in Maryland.

"He did an absolutely brilliant job and won the case. The students were admitted to Poly the next fall," said Walter Sondheim Jr., a Baltimore businessman and civic leader who was a member of the school board at the time. "Marshall was an amazing person, and he has always had an unimpeachable reputation."

From 1951 to 1955, he served as a magistrate-at-large, a part-time job in police station courtrooms, and recalled in a 1991 interview with The Sun that the magistrates "wore no robes, held court seven days a week and were only paid $4,500 a year."

He was appointed to the old city Housing Court in 1955 by Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin, a position he held until 1959, when he left to practice law with Edelman, Levin, Levy and Rubenstein, successors to his father's law firm.

Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed him in 1971 to the city's old Supreme Bench - which became the Circuit Court of Baltimore City. He stayed there for a third of a century, despite having tried to retire in 1987 rather than face an exhausting election campaign.

"Please understand I do this in great sorrow. If I could remain, I would have to undergo a contested election campaign for more than a year, an ordeal I did not relish," Judge Levin wrote in his letter of resignation to then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "The prospect of attending bull and oyster roasts and every kind of raw political affair is not the kind of process that should determine who our judges should be."

But Administrative Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan asked him to stay on and handle the city court's vast asbestos-injury docket, and Judge Levin - with an appointment from the Court of Appeals - accepted the task.

To stem an ever-growing number of asbestos cases that were jamming the docket, Judge Levin decided to consolidate all pending asbestos claims from the city and several Maryland counties.

The result was a mammoth case with 8,600 plaintiffs, 14 defendants, 40 lawyers and more than 7 million documents.

Judge Levin took it all in stride. "Believe me, I've never been in a trial like this. No one has," he told The Sun on the eve of the 1992 trial. "I wish all the parties would settle and put me out of a job."

"Judge Levin's rulings are still guiding asbestos cases today," Judge Heller said.

"He had an excellent legal mind and could handle complex civil litigation," she said. "He took being a judge very seriously. He was always prepared and expected the same of attorneys."

"Marshall was a legal scholar and a complete gentleman of the old school," said longtime friend and retired Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence F. Rodowsky. "He showed so much patience, especially when lawyers were getting a little zealous."

Among Judge Levin's other contributions was implementing a one-trial or one-day system for jury duty in Baltimore in 1982. Rather than having prospective jurors show up at court every day for a month, they now only had to report for one day or, if selected, sit through one trial. Before the change, Judge Levin told The Sun at the time, "an undue amount of poor people and minorities were on city juries. The movers and shakers of the city - the professional people - were generally excused because they said they could not leave their jobs for a month."

Judge Levin rarely put aside his job, and he enjoyed spending his vacations lecturing at Harvard Law School and at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev.

He was a member of the Hamilton Street Club and a self-taught jazz pianist who especially enjoyed the music of George Gershwin and Duke Ellington.

Services will be held at noon today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

Judge Levin is survived by two sons, Robert B. Levin of Baltimore and Burton H. Levin of Edwards, Colo., both attorneys; a daughter, Susan L. Lieman of Owings Mills; a sister, Harriett Berkis of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and four grandchildren.

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