Judge L. Leonard Ruben Dies After Collapsing at Courthouse
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2007; Page B06
L. Leonard Ruben, one of Montgomery County's best-known judges and the husband of former Maryland state senator Ida G. Ruben, died yesterday after he collapsed outside the District Courthouse in downtown Silver Spring. He was 81.
His son Garry, a vascular surgeon, said his father had a history of heart problems and probably died of a heart attack while on the way to hear cases as a retired judge. A security guard attempted CPR after seeing Ruben collapse while entering the courthouse at Second Avenue and Cameron Street about 9 a.m.
Word of Ruben's death spread quickly through the state's tight-knit legal and political circles. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) announced his death on the Senate floor, and the House of Delegates held a moment of silence in his memory.
Ruben had served as a judge since 1974, including 10 years on Montgomery's District Court and 10 on the Circuit Court. He retired in 1995 at the state's mandatory retirement age of 70 but continued to help with heavy caseloads by hearing cases several times a month, lawyers said.
"He was so excited when he had to go to court," Ida Ruben said tearfully yesterday. "He just loved being a judge and making decisions. Some of them were hard, but he adored his job."
The Rubens' 58-year marriage and their public appearances at charity events and political soirees over four decades made them one of Montgomery's most powerful and well-known couples.
As Stan Gildenhorn, Mr. Ruben's former law partner and a Democratic Party activist, put it: "They were kind of the Bill and Hillary of Montgomery County."
Ida Ruben began her political career by filling the House of Delegates seat that her husband vacated after four years when he was appointed to the District Court in 1974. While remaining his wife's closest political adviser, friends said, Leonard Ruben took painstaking care as an active judge to follow judicial ethics rules and avoid partisan politics, even skipping his wife's campaign events. She lost her reelection bid in the Democratic primary in September.
"They just seemed like the perfect match," Rockville lawyer John Kudel said. "Ida was the politician -- very out there, shaking hands and very with the people. Lenny, in social situations, was always content to just sit back and watch Ida do her thing."
On the bench, colleagues said, Ruben liked to explain the law to those who didn't have attorneys and often used a wry sense of humor to keep the courtroom atmosphere light. He was regarded as being so unbiased, Kudel said, that defense lawyers didn't hesitate to have clients plead guilty before him, knowing they'd get a fair sentence.
"He took everyone in front of him very seriously but never took himself seriously in the slightest," said Danny Barnett, chief of the Maryland attorney general's criminal division and one of Ruben's former clerks.
Ida Ruben said her husband was most proud of an antidrug program he started. He took more than 15,000 high school students through his courtroom to watch sentencing hearings in drug cases and to hear drug-crime defendants tell their stories, she said.
It was painfully ironic, Rockville lawyer Paul Kemp said, that Ruben died outside the relatively new Silver Spring courthouse. It was Ida Ruben's work in the Senate, he said, that clinched the state funding to get it built.
In addition to his wife and son Garry, Ruben is survived by sons Scott Ruben and Stephen Ruben and six grandchildren. Another son, Michael, died in 2005 at 48.
The friends and colleagues of Judge L. Leonard Ruben send their deepest sympathy to the family.
Staff writers Lisa Rein and John Wagner and researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.
©2007, The Washington Post.
Reprinted with Permission