Marvin M. Polikoff, 81, lawyer who challenged segregation laws

April 20, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Marvin M. Polikoff, a lawyer who challenged Baltimore's segregation laws and defended those arrested in civil rights demonstrations, died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack. He was 81.

Mr. Polikoff, who lived in Pikesville, was stricken in the parking lot of the Owings Mills Metro station, said his wife, Shirley. She said he was on his way to meet clients in downtown Baltimore. Although he had closed his practice in January after 50 years, she said, "he still couldn't abandon a few."

Called "Buck" by friends and family, Mr. Polikoff was a solo practitioner in Baltimore for most of his career. Without charge, he challenged laws that prevented blacks and whites from playing tennis together in Druid Hill Park, and he represented those arrested in the 1963 demonstrations that ended segregation at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park.

Among Mr. Polikoff's clients were two locals of the Communications Workers of America. When his clients went on strike, "Buck thought nothing of joining the picket line," said Mrs. Polikoff. "He was so compassionate that he had no room for hate."

Mr. Polikoff was asked by former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III to defend people arrested in the 1968 Baltimore riots. He worked with little sleep for several days and operated telephones at the mayor's headquarters during the riots, said Mrs. Polikoff.

Mr. Polikoff also supported causes of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and did legal work for a close friend, the late Rev. Myer F.M. Tobey, a Jesuit priest who spent much of his life fighting for the dignity of Maryland prison inmates. The Polikoffs and Father Tobey were co-founders of Maryland's first halfway house for recently released prisoners.

Born in Baltimore in 1921, Mr. Polikoff attended the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore and City College, from which he graduated in 1938. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1942 and joined the Navy, serving on active duty until 1946.

Mr. Polikoff married Shirley Globus in Baltimore in 1948 and earned his law degree from the University of Baltimore in 1950. That year, the couple traveled to Europe, where Mr. Polikoff studied at the University of Paris and the Sorbonne.

"It was during that time that we came to grips with the racism back home," said Mrs. Polikoff. "From the day we returned, if he wasn't involved in some cause, Buck was playing golf."

Mr. Polikoff was an avid player in a biweekly poker game to which he would come with a fresh joke. "He had a wonderful sense of self-effacing humor," said Baltimore journalist Louis G. Panos, a longtime friend. "He'd do pseudo-vaudeville routines. He'd call his friends at 7 a.m. every Pearl Harbor Day. He'd yell, `Zeroes at 8 o'clock high! Gotta warn the rest!' and then hang up."

Former Maryland U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, for whom Mr. Polikoff campaigned, recalled traveling with him to an Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament. "He was a joy to be around," said Mr. Tydings. "He was an avid Terps fan and a splendid lawyer, a champion for the little guy."

Mr. Polikoff joked that he was a better lawyer than businessman. While traveling in Europe with his wife, he turned down an opportunity to open one of the first U.S. franchises of a German car manufacturer, Volkswagen. In the 1950s, he advised his friend Ordell Braase of the Baltimore Colts that lawyers would never make money as agents for professional athletes.

Mr. Polikoff loved to study maps, said a niece, Nina Globus. "He would sit with a map for hours, reading it just like people read books," she said.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Polikoff is survived by a brother, Alan Polikoff of New York; two sons, Judson Polikoff of Atlanta and Adam Polikoff of Pasadena; and a granddaughter.

Donations may be made to the Marvin Polikoff Memorial Scholarship Fund, the UMCP Foundation, 2119 Main Administration Building, College Park 20742.

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