John N. Prevas, the chief judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court, died Monday evening after being taken to Mercy Hospital earlier in the day by an aide, according to Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.
The 63-year-old judge was born in Baltimore, and graduated from City College before earning a bachelor's degree from Syracuse University and a law degree from the University of Maryland. He was an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore from 1972 to 1986 when he was named to the bench. He became chief judge in 2006.
Guglielmi said Prevas is believed to have died of a heart attack. He arrived at the hospital at 2 p.m. and died later in the evening, he said.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said Prevas was a friend, advisor and longtime member of the "Fells Point Kitchen Cabinet."
She added in a statement, "I knew John back when he was selling Polish hot dogs in law school and was so proud to watch him become one of Baltimore's great jurists. He was a brilliant lawyer who also had street smarts and savvy and was an astute student of politics and people. He used his formidable intellect to help me devise the strategy to beat the political machine in my first run for the Baltimore City Council. In recent years, he often gave me wonderful ideas and advice on criminal justice matters at the federal level – from domestic violence to criminal sentencing guidelines."
Judge John Themelis, who retired from the Circuit Court, said he grew up with Prevas. "He was a very hard-working, honest and dedicated person. His work always came first," he said.
Prevas presided in an ornate courtroom in Courthouse East that was used to film scenes in "The Wire," a fact he was very proud of. He was known for long-winded legal lessons issued from the bench. He would cite and read from case after case to create a clear record of the reasoning behind his decisions.
Prevas was one of the many Frank Zappa fans who showed up last month in Highlandtown at the unveiling of a bust of the musician. According to a story in The Baltimore Sun, Prevas waved his arms in the air when he was introduced from the stage as a longtime Zappa fan. The judge said he had fallen in love with Zappa's music and social commentary in 1966. "He's one of us, just like H.L. Mencken and Edgar Allan Poe and Babe Ruth and Billie Holliday," Prevas said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Justin Fenton and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.