Retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Edgar P. Silver, whose career spanned both the law and politics, died Tuesday at Sinai Hospital after a brief illness, family members said. He was 91.
"He was singularly the most extraordinary man I've ever met. He was irrepressibly optimistic," said Alan M. Rifkin, who co-founded the law firm that later became Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan & Silver LLC in 1989 with Judge Silver.
"He lived his life by two principles: 'The best is yet to come' and 'Never trade old friends for new ones, just keep adding them on,'" said Mr. Rifkin. "He was the kind of man who always said, 'What can I do to help?' and never asked for anything."
"Judge Silver was one of my favorite people," said Joseph F. Murphy Jr., who retired as chief judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in 2007.
"In 1970, I was a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Bureau, and that's when I first laid eyes on Judge Silver. I was at the Northwest District Court for the second session when Edgar came on the bench," recalled Judge Murphy.
"Half of those present were the poorest of souls from the Pimlico area, and he was so nice to them. He treated them with such respect as if they were the attorney general of the United States," he said.
"I thought if ever I was struck by lightning and became a judge, that was the way to deal with people. I never forgot that," said Judge Murphy. "There was never an unimportant person or case in Judge Silver's courtroom."
Former Gov. Marvin Mandel had been a close friend for years.
"One of the reasons he was a great judge was because he understood people's problems, some of which he had lived himself," said Governor Mandel. "He was the same type of judge when he started as when he retired."
"He was just a wonderful and delightful person who loved to listen and tell stories. Edgar always seemed to know what was going on in committees or the governor's office. It was like he had a ringside seat," said former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
The son of Jewish immigrant parents Samuel Silver, a tailor, and Lena Silver, a homemaker, Edgar Paul Silver was born in East Baltimore, one of five children.
When he was very young, Judge Silver's family moved to a home near Auchentoroly Terrace and Druid Hill Park, where he enjoyed playing tennis on the park's clay courts.
His interest in politics began when he was 15 and he began working in the 7th Precinct, 13th Ward.
Judge Silver was a City College graduate. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Merchant Marine from 1943 to 1945.
He was a 1954 graduate of the University of Baltimore Law School and was elected as a city delegate to the General Assembly that same year — beating out his friend William Donald Schaefer. He served in the House of Delegates until 1965.
"He was a very effective legislator and was very good to work with regarding any legislation that we were considering," said Governor Mandel, who served in the state legislature at the same time.
During the decade he spent in Annapolis, Judge Silver fathered the resolution in 1956 that led to the establishment of the Motor Vehicle Committee, which he then chaired for years. He also served on the House Judiciary Committee for eight years and the House Ways and Means Committee for three years.
"And, you know, in politics perception is more important than realism," Judge Silver told The Baltimore Sun in a 1988 interview.
He was appointed to the old Municipal Court of Baltimore City in 1965 by Gov. J. Millard Tawes, serving until 1971. He was then appointed to the District Court of Baltimore City, where he served until 1977, when he was appointed to the Circuit Court by acting Gov. Blair Lee III.
"My power as a judge is awesome. The president of the United States can't take your liberty away. I can," Judge Silver said in The Sun interview.
Judge Silver had a whimsical side to him. During the blizzard of 1966, a vagrant asked, "You don't want me to go out into that snow, do you?" Judge Silver complied with the man's wishes and extended his jail stay.
While sitting on the Circuit Court, Judge Silver dispensed justice in Room 231, earning a reputation for being perhaps the "busiest Circuit Court judge in Maryland," observed The Sun in 1984.
"Every day they come before Judge Silver to be arraigned, these alleged robbers, thieves, murderers and rapists. Hundreds file through Room 231 each month to be told what they're charged with and when they will be tried," reported the newspaper.
"I do my best. It's an awesome responsibility, but I don't let it get to me," said Judge Silver. "I have a life to lead and I'm not going to let this engulf me."
After retiring, Judge Silver found a second career as a partner in Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan & Silver LLC, all the while maintaining a deep interest in the Maryland political landscape.
"Edgar was an encyclopedia of Maryland politics," said Mr. Curran. "He always wanted to know what was going on in politics, and if you wanted to know something, you went to him. He was the source and you knew it was accurate."
"He was the great listener and people in the firm always felt comfortable asking him for advice regarding a case and a client," said Mr. Rifkin. "He really grasped the issues of a case and dispensed his opinion with enormous grace."
His son, Michael J. Silver, who lives in Owings Mills, said that his father's hobby was "what he did all day long, talking to people both high and low. There was no one easier to talk to than my father."
Judge Silver was a racing fan and attended Preakness for many decades.
"Last year, he was in the Jockey Club watching the race for the 70th straight year," said Barry Rascovar, a longtime political columnist and former deputy editorial page editor of The Sun. "The first Preakness he saw was won by Polynesian in 1945. He also as a youth snuck in and watched the great Sea Biscuit-War Admiral match race in 1938."
The longtime Pikesville resident, who had not retired at his death, also enjoyed reading and vacationing in Cape May.
"He also liked eating dinner every Sunday with his great-grandchildren," said his daughter, Roslyn "Rozzie" Benjamin of Pikesville.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.
In addition to his two children, Judge Silver is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Ann Wolf; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.