BALTIMORE — Benjamin Lipsitz, a lawyer who defended the man who tried to kill George Wallace, died May 10. He was 94.
“He was so fundamentally devoted to justice. He was Atticus Finch all over again,” said retired Baltimore County Circuit Judge John Fader II. “To me, he was what lawyering and what representation are all about.”
Lipsitz was chosen to defend Arthur Bremer, accused of shooting Wallace, a Democratic presidential candidate, and three others, including a Secret Service agent, at a Laurel, Md., shopping center on May 15, 1972.
The attempted assassination dominated radio newscasts as Lipsitz drove to his Baltimore office from a Towson deposition on May 15. As he recalled in a 2007 Sun interview, he knew he might be called on to defend Bremer but assumed a lawyer closer to the crime scene would be chosen.
That night, the phone rang in his Pikesville home. The case was his.
Lipsitz drove to meet his client at the FBI’s Baltimore office and found Bremer curled up in the fetal position at the end of a hallway, surrounded by law enforcement officers.
“He was an interesting guy. Kind of sad, really. … His family was bad news,” Lipsitz recalled.
Bremer called his lawyer “my only friend.”
With his daughter, Eleanor J. Lipsitz, as co-counsel, he conducted a strong defense in Prince George’s Circuit Court.
“He left no stone unturned in defending him,” said Eleanor Lipsitz. “We would get up in the morning, drive to Upper Marlboro and then it would be an intense time in court. Then we would drive our tired butts back to the big city and he would spend half the night preparing for the next day.”
After a five-day trial, Bremer was convicted in 90 minutes. Lipsitz appealed the 63-year sentence and got it reduced by 10 years. Bremer was released with time off for good behavior in 2007 at the age of 57.
Lipsitz’s reputation within the legal community was established by well before the Bremer case.
In 1959, he unsuccessfully argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving privacy rights and warrantless entries by non-law-enforcement officials.
As court-appointed lawyer in 1964, Lipsitz represented James McCloskey, an inmate at a Maryland state prison, who alleged that he was denied by prison officials the right to send anti-Semitic letters to elected officials and civil liberties groups.
The Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected McCloskey’s claims, but lauded Lipsitz for taking the case even though he was Jewish: “With high fidelity to his duty as an officer of the court, the attorney has urgently and ably presented McCloskey’s contentions that he has an absolute right, even in the circumstances of his confinement, to express his beliefs. … As was said of Voltaire, the attorney, who must strongly disagree with McCloskey’s anti-Semitic opinions, rushes to the defense of McCloskey’s right to hold and express them.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services