Broadway as therapy Lawyers as humans: A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge runs theater trips to New York so lawyers and judges can get to know each other outside the pressure of the courtroom.

February 26, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

Around the Towson Court House, Judge Dana Levitz has carved out a reputation as a tough, fair-minded jurist, a big man with a bigger voice.

Few know of his second career: travel consultant.

Next month, Judge Levitz and his wife, Dale, will lead a group of 44 judges, lawyers and others with ties to the legal community on a one-day theater excursion to Manhattan. Over four years, the couple has played host to about a half-dozen such trips, including a week-long cruise.

For each itinerary, Judge Levitz and his wife pick trip dates. They arrange for bus charters. They even choose Broadway show tickets for the travelers, known in the hallways as the "Courthouse Cruisers."

It's not the ordinary avocation of a Circuit Court judge. But Judge Levitz says the trips serve a larger purpose -- to bring together lawyers and judges in a setting in which they are not sniping at each other.

"Our judicial system is less and less genteel," Judge Levitz said. "The trips are a chance for people who are opponents five days a week to be together, maybe even share a pleasant experience."

Others confirm the excursions help mend relationships.

"On the trips, we're all equals," said J. Calvin Jenkins Jr., a Towson lawyer who has traveled with the Levitzes several times.

"The judges are able to be normal, every-day people. They don't talk in Latin. They don't even need to speak in full sentences, because there are no court reporters recording every word."

Judge J. Norris Byrnes said: "It's a day when a judge is up close and personal, instead of being a figure in robe, on top of the bench."

The excursions boast a number of legal heavyweights at the bar and bench.

A judge from the Court of Special Appeals regularly travels with him, as do several from Judge Levitz's bench, the Baltimore County Circuit Court. Trial lawyers, law professors, courthouse secretaries and at least one of Judge Levitz's former law clerks also have come along.

"Everything's talked about, except cases," Mr. Jenkins said. "We don't discuss anything pending [before a judge]. You just know not to."

The cost of the trip is kept to a minimum, the price of a night's hotel, show tickets and a meal or two. Judge Levitz then tacks on a few dollars, money that is donated to the Baltimore County Bar Association.

Most of the work goes on before the bus leaves Towson.

Ms. Levitz, who heads motion pictures and television productions at Johns Hopkins Medical School, spends weeks NTC booking restaurants and placing ticket orders.

Because trips are usually limited to 44 -- the number of seats on one charter bus -- slots fill quickly. Any vacant slots are plugged in Baltimore County Bar Association publications.

For the Levitzes, the lure of the trips is live theater.

The couple met at UMBC, where both were theater majors in the 1970s. Judge Levitz had several roles in student productions, including Shakespearean plays. Ms. Levitz also performed.

Both ultimately chose other careers, though Judge Levitz believes theater background was excellent training for the bar.

"To play a role, and be believable, you've got to be very persuasive," he said. "Trial lawyers are striving for many of the same things. Be believable. Persuade the jury. "

In New York, the Levitz travelers have seen a series of hits, including "Miss Saigon," "Beauty and the Beast" and, next month, "Inherit the Wind" with George C. Scott and Charles Durning.

On past trips, guests also schedule time to shop for everything from business suits to rye bread. The bus frequently makes a stop at a Jewish bakery famous for its 10-pound loaves.

"It's so funny seeing people heading back with 40 pounds of bread under their arms," Ms. Levitz said.

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