Friday, August 29, 2014
A civil rights lawyer. A fair and reasonable judge. A wonderful husband. An immigrant turned naturalized citizen. These are some of the words one can use to describe Judge Frank Schwelb of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals who passed away on August 13, 2014.
Judge Schwelb was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. As his obituary from the Washington Post reported, Judge Schwelb fled with his family to England on the eve of World War II. (His father was a human rights lawyer who represented anti-Nazi refugees and was arrested and later released. More about their family story and his father may be found here). The Schwelb family lived in England as refugees until they moved to the United States when Judge Schwelb was fifteen years old. Born Frantisek Arnost Schwel, he later changed his name to Frank Schwelb.
As his D.C. Court of Appeals bio explains, Judge Schwelb attended Yale University and then Harvard Law School. While in law school, he took two years off to serve in the Army and later became a naturalized citizen before finishing law schooli n 1958. He would then have a successful career working in a law firm, then the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights division and worked on several important voting rights cases, desegregation cases, and the case involving the murder of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerne.
President Carter Jimmy Carter appointed him to the District of Columbia Superior Court in 197o and President Ronald Reagan later appointed him to the DC Court of Appeals in 1988. As a judge, he became known for using cultural referances in his opinions, citing among others, Shakespeare and John Keats. Although I did not clerk for Judge Schwelb, I have very fond memories of him. (I clerked for one of his colleagues, Judge Stephen H. Glickman, who was a big fan of Judge Schwelb). He was nice, witty and had a very nice and welcoming smile.
He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Taffy Wurzburg Schwelb.
He will very much be missed. Rest in peace, Judge Schwelb.