Lee David Hoshall Jr., 52, attorney, civil rights activist

April 14, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Lee David Hoshall Jr., a civil rights activist and attorney who represented clients in racial, sexual and disability discrimination cases, died of respiratory failure Monday at Sinai Hospital. The Lauraville resident was 52.

As assistant general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Human Relations for nearly 20 years, Mr. Hoshall received national attention when he successfully defended a University of Maryland campus police officer who had been fired for refusing to shave his beard. Mr. Hoshall showed that many African-American males suffer from a skin condition that is exacerbated by a razor blade.

Born and raised in Northeast Baltimore, he was a 1971 Northern High School graduate. He boxed as a teenager and kept up the sport while he served in the Marine Corps from 1971 to 1974. Friends said his competitive nature - in a boxing ring or the courtroom - remained with him throughout his life.

"He was a tireless advocate for human rights for people," said Jim Becker, a fellow attorney. "It was not uncommon for him to work throughout the night on a case."

Mr. Hoshall earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's degree in criminal justice at the University of Baltimore. In 1987 he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law.

As a staff member at the city's Community Relations Commission in the 1970s, he was one of the organizers of a push for a gay civil rights bill. Friends recalled he could be a strident advocate.

"He had a relentless and probing intellect," said Nancy Langer, a lifelong friend who lives in Ruxton. When members of the Baltimore City Council rejected the gay rights bill in 1980, Mr. Hoshall told an Evening Sun reporter, "I'm very proud of the six [members] who stood up for human rights. The others are two-faced cowards. You don't know the depths of my contempt for them."

While on the legal staff of the state's Commission on Human Relations, he helped win a financial settlement for a Muslim employee who complained that she was fired shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks because of her religious beliefs. He helped defeat a Domino's Pizza ban on bearded employees based on a complaint of a Catonsville Sikh whose religion forbade shaving.

"He was an outstanding attorney," said Glendora Hughes, general counsel of the state commission. "He would research an issue for days. His legal arguments were very well founded. And he could write."

Mr. Hoshall also negotiated wheelchair access on the lower deck of the Inner Harbor's 19th-century sailing ship Constellation using a hand-cranked portable lift between the ship's top deck and the gun deck seven feet below.

"It advances the rights of persons with disabilities - their rights of access to historic properties - while at the same time respecting the need to protect historically significant properties from damage, destruction or alterations," he said in 1999.

Mr. Hoshall successfully challenged a University of Maryland campus security office requirement that all its officers be cleanshaven. He argued that black officers were statistically more likely to suffer from a painful skin condition aggravated by shaving.

"The case sends an important message across the country that grooming policies can successfully be challenged under a racial discrimination theory," he told a New York Times reporter.

In his free time, Mr. Hoshall did genealogical research on his family and kept a vegetable garden. He was also a devotee of old films and ethnic restaurants.

Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Green Mount Cemetery Mausoleum, Greenmount Avenue and Oliver Street.

Survivors include his life partner of 37 years, Clarence W. Hill; two sisters, Debra J. Hoshall of Houston and Diane H. Coleman of Baltimore; and a nephew, Dan Coleman of White Hall.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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