Judge Dana Mark Levitz, who served for 23 years on the Circuit Court for Baltimore County before retiring in 2008 and was considered an expert in death penalty cases, died Wednesday of a heart attack at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, Fla. The Stevenson resident was 69.
“Dana’s strong suit — he had no weak suits — was that he was a great lawyer, judge and person, and his contributions extended far beyond the courtroom,” said Joseph F. Murphy Jr., former chief judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
“He contributed enormously to the quality of justice in every courtroom in Maryland through his teaching,” Judge Murphy said. “He imparted useful information to his fellow judges that helped them improve their sentencing.”
John F. Fader II, a retired Baltimore County circuit judge, called his former colleague “a figure larger than life.”
“Dana was an individual who exuded a great personality and was very learned when it came to the law and very exacting in how he conducted his courtroom,” said Judge Fader. “It was a great pleasure to have served with him and to have known him.”
Born in Baltimore and raised in Forest Park, Judge Levitz was the son of Abraham Levitz, a kosher butcher, and Sylvia Levitz, a manicurist.
His path to a career in the legal system began when he was 13. Over the summer he would travel to downtown Baltimore to observe trials at the courthouse.
“There were real detectives there. There were real prisoners in shackles. It was exciting,” Judge Levitz said in a 2008 Daily Record interview. “And then when the judge came out, wow, that was real impressive.”
He was a 1966 graduate of City College and was a member of the first graduating class of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, from which he obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1970 in theater.
“He majored in drama, which helped him get his angst up in the courtroom,” said his wife of 42 years, the former Dale Roth, a UMBC classmate.
“I think the vast majority of college students who think they want to be lawyers major in political science. … Political science has nothing to do with law school or the practice of law,” Judge Levitz explained in a 2010 interview with UMBC Magazine.
“I’m not saying that it’s not worthwhile. It’s certainly as valuable as any other liberal arts major,” he said. In theater, he said, “you have to read, understand the motivations of characters, the emotions, and convey it to an audience. What better preparation could a trial lawyer have than that?”
Judge Levitz was a 1973 graduate of the University of Baltimore Law School, where he served as a member of the law review from 1972 to 1973.
He was a city prosecutor from 1973 to 1975, then was named an assistant state’s attorney for Baltimore County, serving in that role from 1975 to 1984. He was deputy state’s attorney for the county from 1984 to 1985.
While in the county’s state’s attorney’s office, Judge Levitz was chief of its sex offense unit.
“Rape is probably the most under-reprted crime that exists,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 1979. “There is an inherent fear on the part of rape victims of the criminal justice system.”
When Sandra A. O’Connor, who had worked as a city prosecutor with Judge Levitz, was elected state’s attorney in 1975, it was his experience with sex abuse, rape and child abuse cases that motivated her to bring him to Baltimore County.
“I picked Dana because I was looking for people who were strong prosecutors. But more importantly, I wanted him because he showed an unusual interest in rape cases,” she told The Sun at the time.
“Dana was an excellent trial lawyer and had some of the biggest cases in Baltimore County. He was my deputy and good friend,” Ms. O’Connor recalled in a telephone interview.
“He cared about victims,” said Leonard H. Shapiro, a Baltimore criminal defense attorney, and longtime friend. “He was a brilliant prosecutor and judge. He took those jobs very seriously and was always fair.”
A man of Falstaffian stature, Judge Levitz earned the sobriquet “Big Man,” reported The Evening Sun in 1979.
“He looks like an unemployed Santa Claus who found part-time work as a prosecutor,” observed the newspaper. “He has a laugh and an empathetic nature that doesn’t need a reason to come out.”
”Seeing him in action was something. He commanded a courtroom,” Ms. O’Connor said. “He loved being dramatic and it worked. That’s what a good lawyer is — in addition to being prepared.”
“Dana could be dramatic, but never overly dramatic. He knew how to hit just the right note,” Judge Murphy said.
During his tenure, he prosecuted a number of high-profile cases including the 1983 murders of two people at the Warren House motel in Pikesville that prosecutors said were organized by Anthony Grandison, a Baltimore drug lord. Scott Piechowicz, who was to testify against Mr. Grandison in a federal drug trial, and Susan Kennedy, his sister-in-law, were killed. Mr. Grandison was convicted of murder.
Another high-profile case he successfully prosecuted was the 1979 killing of Marion C. Townsend, 27. Ms. Townsend was pregnant when she was shot and killed by Barbara Jean Langley as Ms. Townsend and her husband, Michael Townsend, were driving along Bellona Avenue in Ruxton. Doctors at Greater Baltimore Medical Center performed an emergency cesarean in an attempt to save Ms. Townsend’s unborn son, Joshua, who died 15 hours later. Mrs. Langley was convicted of two counts of manslaughter.
Judge Levitz was 36 when he was appointed to the Baltimore County Circuit Court by Gov. Harry R. Hughes in 1985. He was the youngest judge to have been appointed to that court.
In a 1989 article in The Sun, he wrote about the death penalty in Maryland, stating that unless a “system can be developed for speedily and efficiently dealing with the endless litigation surrounding the death penalty, it should be abolished.
“If there is anything cruel and unusual about the death penalty, it is the never-ending litigation with its constant ups and downs” that makes life emotionally difficult for victims, defendants and their families, he wrote. He said unless appellate courts established standards for reviewing death penalty cases and shortening the appeal process, “I don’t believe it is in the public’s interest to continue to pretend that Maryland has a death penalty.”
“He was an expert on death penalty cases,” said Judge Fader. “As a judge, you can’t preside over such cases unless you have taken the death penalty course — and he taught that.”
Judge Levitz taught evening courses in trial practice at the University of Baltimore Law School from 1985 to 2016. He also taught orientation courses for newly minted judges from around the state. He served on numerous committees and advisory bodies in the court system and legal advocacy groups, and was a frequent and popular lecturer.
He made news in 1989 when he told The Sun that judges can “become pompous jerks in black robes.” So he sent 150 questionnaires to lawyers who had appeared before him asking them to evaluate his own performance as related to “courtesy, fairness, efficiency and intelligence with which justice has been administered in my courtroom.”
Judge Murphy said that people who stood before Judge Levitz always felt “that they got a fair trial. He listened and ruled on the evidence and applicable law.”
The Morning Sun Newsletter
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.