Fred E. Weisgal,Civil rights attorney,Israeli official and...


June 18, 1991

Fred E. Weisgal,

Civil rights attorney,Israeli official and jazz musician, dies

Fred E. Weisgal, a prominent former Baltimore civil rights attorney who later emigrated to Israel where he became an official in the Ministry of Justice, died yesterday. He was 71.

Mr. Weisgal collapsed and died at his home in Roland Park.

A memorial service will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Beth Am Synagogue, 2501 Eutaw Place.

Mr. Weisgal, an ebullient man, equally talented as a lawyer and a musician, made his mark in Baltimore and in Israel, where he lived more than 20 years.

Mr. Weisgal's first major case, which he won, involved a suit to admit blacks to the Maryland Institute art school in 1947. Soon after this, he joined the Baltimore branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he continued to press civil rights cases, often representing clients and causes without charge.

In one of his most important cases, he appeared before the Supreme Court to successfully argue that anyone arrested for a serious crime should be entitled to legal counsel at the first critical stage of judicial proceedings. He also worked to end restriction covenants that prevented minority groups from buying real estate in certain areas -- awidespread practice in Baltimore's wealthier neighborhoods at the time.

In 1960, he represented Madalyn E. Murray, the prominent atheist activist, in her attempt to outlaw all religious observances from Baltimore public schools. And in 1967, Mr. Weisgal represented the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., who was accused and later convicted of splattering blood on Baltimore draft records.

"He was a most able and very effective advocate on behalf of civil rights," observed Judge Norman P. Ramsey of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

In 1969, Mr. Weisgal moved with his family to Israel, where he first served as a senior adviser to the attorney general and then headed the American law section and foreign relations for the Ministry of Justice. He held this postion until he retired in 1987. He then returned to the United States with his wife, Jeanne, and they settled in Roland Park.

During his time in Israel, Mr. Weisgal also made several journeys back to the United States to raise money for Israel. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War he frequently entertained hospitalized Israeli troops.

Mr. Weisgal was born in Czechoslovakia on Nov. 25, 1919, and came to Baltimore with his family when he was 6 months old. His father Adolph, known to everyone as "Abba" was the cantor at Chizuk Amuno synagogue on Eutaw Place.

Mr. Weisgal attended Baltimore public schools and the Johns Hopkins University and earned a law degree from the University of Baltimore Law School.

While he was attending law school, he supported himself by playing jazz piano at several Baltimore nightclubs, including clubs on The Block where he met several people he would eventually represent in court.

Although he gave up a professional career in music when he passed the bar in 1946, he continued to play the piano, most recently performing each Saturday night at the Polo Grill at the Colonnade and every Monday at the Roland Park Place Rest Home.

In Israel Mr. Weisgal was a fixture in the American expatriate community, especially among foreign journalists who came to know him as the piano player at the American Colony Hotel, where most journalists stayed.

He came to the hotel to play for the first time on Christmas Eve in 1973, when the only people staying there were war correspondents and their families, and as Horatio Vester, the late owner of the hotel observed years later, "He simply never left."

In addition to his wife, the former Jeanne de LaViez, whom he married in 1948, Mr. Weisgal is survived by his brother, Hugo Weisgall, a well-known opera composer who lives in Great Neck, N.Y.; three daughters, Margit Weisgal of Silver Spring, Aran Mimran of San Leandro, Calif., and Rebecca Lavon of Baltimore; two sons, Lawrence and Samuel, both of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.

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