Maurice L. Braverman, 86, lawyer convicted of being a Communist

March 27, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Maurice L. Braverman, who won back the right to practice law two decades after a McCarthy-era conviction and imprisonment as a Communist conspirator, died of pneumonia Monday at Union Hospital of Cecil County in Elkton. He was 86 and had lived in Baltimore's Windsor Hill and Waverly for many years.

Mr. Braverman had practiced law in Baltimore for 11 years before his 1952 conviction in federal court of violating the Smith Act -- being a member of the Communist Party and advocating overthrow of the government by violence and force. He was fined $1,000, served 28 months in prison and was disbarred.

He acknowledged his Communist ties, but steadfastly denied advocating the government's overthrow. He also had defended a client -- a tailor who had sold his car to a Communist -- before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which included then-Congressman Richard M. Nixon.

At Mr. Braverman's trial, an FBI informer testified that he was a leader of "super-secret, white-collar Communist groups."

"Maurice was a sweet guy, gracious, not at all an on-fire zealot," said John C. Roemer III, who as executive director of Maryland's American Civil Liberties Union chapter in the 1970s helped Mr. Braverman win back his right to practice law.

"About the only thing he was guilty of was reading the Communist Manifesto in his basement with some friends -- a book that is now in any decent high school library," Mr. Roemer said.

Born in Washington, Mr. Braverman was raised in South Baltimore, living above his parents' Jackson Street grocery store.

After graduating from City College in 1933, he opened an East Baltimore grocery. He entered the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1938 and drove a cab to help pay tuition. He earned his law degree in 1941.

A 1972 profile in The Evening Sun said that Mr. Braverman found his faith in American justice shaken by his senior-year law school study of the celebrated conviction and execution of immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in a 1920 payroll robbery and murder.

"Maurice gradually became imbued with the anti-fascist commitment of the Communists and their heroic efforts in the European underground to fight the Nazis and lessen Jewish persecutions," the article said.

"His worst years in recollection were the 10 after he got out of prison," it said. "He became withdrawn, disillusioned, cynical. ...

"What brought Maurice back among the living, he says, was the realization in 1965 that young people and men like Martin Luther King were in the forefront and making things happen; that some of the old civil rights causes for which he had fought had attained wide backing and that progress was being made, giving rise to new hope and confidence."

Mr. Braverman was an accountant after his release from prison, and in 1974 won the right to practice law again in city and state courts. He operated a law office in the 3500 block of Greenmount Ave. in Waverly.

He petitioned for the right to practice in federal court -- the same court that had convicted him of violating the old anti-Communist and anti-fascist Smith Act. By a 6-3 vote in 1975, a panel of all of Baltimore's federal judges turned him down , but in 1976 a federal appellate court in Richmond, Va., reversed that decision and he was free to practice in federal courts.

"It was ironic that ... Maurice was reinstated to the federal bar while Nixon was forced to resign the presidency," Mr. Roemer said.

In 1981, he married Myrna R. Lapides, who survives him. The couple moved to Israel in 1985, and late in 2000 moved to the Cecil Woods retirement community near Elkton.

He was an official of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel and a founder of the East Bank Havurah prayer group in Baltimore.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road.

He is also survived by a daughter, Sara Sutton of Pinehurst, N.C., and a grandson. A previous marriage to the former Jeanette Block ended in divorce. A daughter, Ruth Braverman, died in 1991.

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