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Allen L. Schwait, Baltimore City Circuit Court judge who chaired University of Maryland Board of Regents, dies

Judge Allen L. Schwait was chairman of the University of Maryland Board of Regents.
Judge Allen L. Schwait was chairman of the University of Maryland Board of Regents. (Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun/Baltimore Sun)

Allen L. Schwait, a lawyer, retired Baltimore City Circuit Court judge and former chairman of the University of Maryland Board of Regents, died May 27 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at Springwell Senior Living in Mount Washington. The Homeland resident was 83.

“Allen was what you’d want in a trial judge. He was a true gentleman and scholar and had a keen intellect. He was a true mensch,” said former Circuit Judge Stuart R. Berger, currently a judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

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“He had command of the courtroom, did a wonderful job, and was an absolute delight to serve with and an excellent judge,” Judge Berger said. “He had a wonderful laugh and smile, and our courthouse family are so sad to hear of his passing.”

“His values reflected the meaning of education, and he was a strong supporter of academics,” said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, who has been president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County since 1992. “He was intelligent and had an intellectual curiosity, and his support for us always came through.”

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Allen Louis Schwait, son of Albert Schwait, a factory worker, and his wife, Dora Lieberman Schwait, a dress shop worker, was born in Philadelphia.

“He was mighty proud of being raised in South Philly,” said his wife of 32 years, the former Julie Andres, a CPA and retired Park School writer.

Frank Starr, The Baltimore Sun’s former national editor and Washington bureau chief, was a longtime friend.

“He was proud of his South Philly roots and his family,” Mr. Starr said. “He really was a man of the people and so humble. He was just an ordinary and lovable guy.”

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Judge Schwait was a 1955 graduate of Central High School, where his basketball teammate on the All-City team that year was the future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain from Overbrook High School, who was the first-team center, while he was the second center.

He was a 1959 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, and he earned his law degree in 1963 from the University of Maryland School of Law, where he was an editor of the law review, a moot court judge and the recipient of the American Jurisprudence Prize for Administrative Law.

In 1964, he was appointed as a trial attorney to the Civil Refund Trial Section of the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he specialized in tax refund cases and served until 1967.

Judge Schwait began practicing law in 1969 with the law firm of Garbis & Schwait, specializing in general and tax litigation until 1993, when he became a partner in Azrael, Gann & Franz.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed Judge Schwait to the Baltimore City Circuit Court following the retirement of Judge Marvin B. Steinberg.

“They call judges honorable, and Allen was truly an honorable guy,” Mr. Starr said. “It truly fit him and he was so well-suited to be called honorable.”

“Allen was a bright guy who made his own way, and a good Baltimore guy in so many ways who knew everyone in town,” said Peter A. Jay, a former Sun columnist. “He was very community-minded, thoughtful, intelligent and good-humored. He led a good constructive life, and I always thought he was the kind of person who should have been a judge.”

Judge Schwait stepped down from the bench in 2007 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

“He said he had reached ‘statutory senility and had to retire,’ ” his wife said.

But he did not stay retired for long. A month later he began presiding over the Baltimore City Circuit Court Drug Treatment Center. He explained in a Daily Record interview that while he enjoyed presiding over jury trials he felt he made an impact with his work with the drug treatment court.

“Drug treatment court enables me to get involved in a process,” he told the newspaper. “It gets me involved with something I feel strongly about. Drug treatment court is probably the most successful drug treatment facility around.”

Judge Schwait continued working as a retired judge until stepping down in 2011.

His professional memberships included the Maryland State Bar Association, Baltimore Bar Association and the Baltimore chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

Education was another prominent interest for him.

He joined the University of Maryland Board of Regents in 1979 and was chairman from 1984 to 1988. One of the challenges he had to deal with as chairman was the cocaine-induced death of Maryland basketball star Len Bias and the subsequent firing of coach Charles G. “Lefty” Driesell.

“A highly ethical man, Allen concluded that Lefty Driesell, by destroying evidence in Bias’ dormitory room, had committed illegal acts and had to be fired, enraging many students and alumni,” Ms. Schwait wrote in a biographical profile of her husband.

It was Judge Schwait who championed Dr. Hrabowski to succeed Michael K. Hooker as president of UMBC.

“He came to my office at UMBC to be supportive. He sat down and wanted to talk about education and was interested in what challenges people in education in Maryland were facing,” Dr. Hrabowski said.

“He was a rock of stability in those challenging times, but he was a man who remained calm and had solutions. He asked good questions and gave authentic responses,” Dr. Hrabowski said. “He was a major supporter of Maryland higher education. He was consistent.”

Judge Schwait maintained a deep interest in Baltimore public school students from kindergarten through the 12th grade, Dr. Hrabowski said.

“He wanted to make sure that they were prepared for higher education and would succeed in college. That’s Allen Schwait,” he said.

Dr. Hrabowski recalled a piece of advice that Judge Schwait imparted to him one day.

“He said, ‘Freeman, doing the right thing is more important than doing the popular thing. Don’t ever forget that,’ ” Dr. Hrabowski recalled.

Judge Schwait was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and was active in Jewish affairs, including serving as president of the Baltimore chapter of the American Jewish Committee and as a member of the boards of Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund and Jewish College Services. He was the founding chairman of Baltimore BLEWS, a Black-Jewish discussion and action organization.

Judge Schwait ran marathons and worked out regularly at the Downtown Athletic Club until two years ago. He was a Shriver Hall Concerts and Everyman Theater subscriber, an opera fan, and a voracious reader of biographies and autobiographies.

He enjoyed a “hearty drink,” his wife said, and fine meals. He liked holding court at lunchtime at the Village Square Cafe in Cross Keys, and had a great capacity for friendships.

“And what an amazing friend he was,” Mr. Starr said. “He made friends easily, treasured them, and truly cared about them.”

“He loved being a judge and never voted for a Republican,” his wife said.

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Plans for a memorial service to be held this summer are incomplete.

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In addition to his wife of 32 years, he is survived by two sons, Daniel Schwait of New York City and Adam Schwait of Portland, Oregon; a daughter, Anne Schwait of Portland, Oregon; and two grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Lois Crandall ended in divorce.

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