Ellicott City lawyer has historic place as judge Zwaig
, 57, first Hispanic male to reach bench in Maryland.
Ellicott City attorney Ricardo Zwaig became the first Hispanic judge in Howard County after being appointed to the bench by Gov.
, an immigrant from Argentina, moved to the United States in 1963.
Ellicott City lawyer Ricardo Zwaig was sitting in his optometrist's office recently, his eyes dilated, when his cell phone rang.
Through blurry vision, he
couldn't make out the number of the caller, but he
With those words, Zwaig
, 57, found out he
had reached a peak of the legal profession: He
was going to become a judge.
"I was just so happy," Zwaig
said in a recent interview in his
Ellicott City office.
"I was elated.
I cried to myself."
Gov. O'Malley's selection of Zwaig as the first Hispanic judge in Howard County - and the first male Hispanic judge in the state - meant a lot to the immigrant from Argentina, whose family moved to the United States in 1963.
"I'm really incredibly honored," he
"It's a heavy responsibility.
I'm really taking it seriously."
father wouldn't let him speak English in the house, because he
sons to maintain their strong Spanish-speaking roots.
Speaking fluent Spanish is a skill Zwaig has used to help his
law practice flourish.
Between 80 and 90 percent of the clients of Zwaig
and Zwaig, which Ricardo runs with his
brother, Michael, speak Spanish.
family fled Argentina when he
was 10 during what's known as the country's "Black Year," when rebels seized control of the government.
been getting emotional when he
thinks about his
father, a salesman who pushed his
sons to pursue their education.
would have been so proud," Zwaig
said, wiping tears from his
Ricardo Zwaig graduated in 1977 from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County after majoring in Spanish and history.
cultivated a passion for Spanish literature, which he
maintains today, constantly reading esteemed works from Mexico, Spain, Colombia and other Spanish-speaking countries.
He spent a year teaching in Colorado after graduation, before enrolling at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore.
said an interest in constitutional law drew him to the field.
"It was a romantic kind of thing," he
After working for 27 years in law, Zwaig sees the rule of law as being a distinguishing characteristic of the United States.
"It was the element that set us apart from ... Latin America," he
"Nowhere is it applied with the degree of consistency that it is applied here."
Prior to joining his
brother at their law firm, Zwaig
spent 19 years as a state and federal public defender.
and Zwaig, which has offices in Ellicott City and Baltimore, his
firm specializes in criminal, business and immigration law.
has represented Spanish-speaking clients in several high-profile cases, including a 2006 hit-and-run case in which a toddler was dragged to death after his
stroller was struck by a pickup truck.
That trial, during which Zwaig's
client was sentenced to 10 years in prison for manslaughter, was "a really sad case," he
"We did the best we could with the facts we had," he
"I don't think that case defines me."
Zwaig also represented the chief operating officer of Network Technologies Group, who was one of four executives indicted federally in a fraud case.
Convinced his client was innocent, Zwaig said he vigorously researched the case and presented evidence that cleared his client to federal prosecutors, who agreed to drop the charges.
just started crying," Zwaig
said of his
O'Malley selected Zwaig
for the District Court judgeship July 23 to replace Alice P. Clark, who retired in February.
said the appointment is slightly "bittersweet," because he
must stop practicing law with his
brother, but he
Hispanic background gives a perspective needed on the court.
"The fact that I'm Latino, that gives me a different viewpoint," he
"It's not better or worse, just different.
Maryland's fast-growing Hispanic population is about to have its first male representative in judicial robes, as Governor O'Malley has chosen of defense lawyer Ricardo D. Zwaig for a Howard County District Court judgeship.
There are two female Hispanic judges and O'Malley named Audrey Creighton, a third, for a Montgomery County District Court judgeship along with Zwaig
"I feel proud I've been selected," said Zwaig
, 57, the father of three.
"It speaks very clearly to the community," he
said about his
, who practices with his
younger brother Michael at offices in Baltimore's Highlandtown neighborhood and Ellicott City, is a former state and federal public defender who has applied twice before to be a circuit judge.
application in 2005 and was passed over in 2007.
is to replace the retired Judge Alice P. Clark as soon as he
can wind up his
private practice and schedule his
practice is mostly criminal defense, personal injury, and immigration plus some civil work, he
He is eager to be a judge because "I've been committed to community service forever," he said, adding that he likes dealing with people rather than doing administrative jobs.
"My kids say to me, 'Dad, you know everybody.
You talk to everybody.' I really enjoy talking to people.".
has previously applied for circuit Court positions, he
is looking forward to District Court.
"District Court is pretty much the face of the judiciary" to the vast majority of people, he
said, and although cases in traffic court may seem routine and repetitive, "every single person who comes to court on every single case believes that case is important," and so does he
The judgeship pays $127,252.
Baltimore office is on Eastern Ave. in the midst of the Hispanic community and he
often defends Hispanics, sometimes pro bono.
It was a "terrible" case" Zwaig
said this week.
A native of Argentina, he
moved to the Baltimore area at age 10, he
said, when his
family came north to join European cousins who had survived the Holocaust in a concentration camp during World War II.
He attended what was then Milford Mill High School in Baltimore County and then graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in 1977.
He graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1982, passing the bar the following year.
Zwaig worked as a state public defender until 1990, and then became a federal public defender before taking an administrative federal court job he quickly began to dislike.
In 2002 he
returned to the courtroom in private practice with his
Lawyer Jason Shapiro, who headed the Howard County judicial selection panel that forwarded four names to the Governor, said Zwaig "has fantastic experience and a wonderful demeanor and would make an outstanding judge."
What I like most is that I know Ricardo
is going to treat all who come before him in the same manner," she