Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Frank Schwelb, civil-rights lawyer who became judge

FRANK SCHWELB, a onetime Justice Department civil-rights lawyer who became a District of Columbia judge for more than three decades, known for his sometimes floridly written judicial decisions, died last week at a Washington hospital. He was 82.

He had Parkinson's disease and complications from cardiopulmonary ailments, said his wife, Taffy Schwelb.

After fleeing his native Czechoslovakia with his family on the eve of World War II, Schwelb grew up in England before coming to the United States in his teens. He served as a lawyer with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division from 1962 to 1979, when he was appointed to the district's Superior Court.

Schwelb quickly became known for his lengthy and sometimes verbally inventive writings from the bench. He turned to Shakespeare to brighten a decision on juvenile justice, John Keats in a case about trash collecting and composers Gilbert and Sullivan in a landlord-tenant dispute.

In March 1980, he became a victim of crime himself while walking from his car to his apartment building in Southwest Washington. Accosted by two men who demanded his wallet, he refused to turn it over. He was shot in the abdomen, and the would-be robbers fled.

- Daily News wire services

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