Frank E. Schwelb, a onetime Justice Department civil rights lawyer who became a D.C. judge for more than three decades, known for his sometimes floridly written judicial decisions, died Aug. 13, 2015 at a Washington hospital. He was 82. He had Parkinson’s disease and complications from cardiopulmonary ailments, said his wife, Taffy Schwelb.
After fleeing his native Czechoslovakia with his family on the eve of World War II, Judge Schwelb grew up in England before coming to the United States in his teens. He served as an attorney with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division from 1962 to 1979, when he was appointed to the D.C. Superior Court. Judge Schwelb quickly became known for his lengthy and sometimes verbally inventive writings from the bench. He turned to Shakespeare to brighten a decision on juvenile justice, John Keats in a case about trash collecting and composers Gilbert and Sullivan in a landlord tenant dispute. Quoting from the operetta “The Mikado,” Judge Schwelb wrote, “My object all sublime / I shall achieve in time / To let the punishment fit the crime / The punishment fit the crime.”