Maryland Carey Law mourns the loss of the Honorable Benjamin R. Civiletti

The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law mourns the passing of the Honorable Benjamin Civiletti ’61, who died on Oct. 16.  

“The Honorable Benjamin Civiletti had a huge impact in the legal world and remained a dear friend of the law school throughout his prestigious career,” said Maryland Carey Law Dean Renée Hutchins. “He will be deeply missed by the law school, our state, and the nation.”  

During the Carter administration, Civiletti was U.S. attorney general from 1979 to 1981. Prior to his ascension to the top post, he served as assistant attorney general under the Honorable Griffin Bell from 1977 to 1978. As attorney general, Civiletti argued before the Supreme Court for the right of the government to denaturalize Nazi war criminals and before the International Court of Justice on behalf of the American captives in Iran during the Iran hostage crisis. He also investigated presidential brother Billy Carter in his dealings with Libya. Perhaps his most enduring contribution to the profession, however, was his issuance of public attorney general guidelines with policies and procedures that guide government investigations and prosecutions to this day. 

In a statement following Civiletti’s death, Attorney General Merrick Garland said: “Among many other achievements during his tenure, Attorney General Civiletti continued the work begun by his predecessors, Attorneys General Edward Levi and Griffin Bell, in the wake of Watergate to restore public trust in the Department of Justice. Attorney General Civiletti wrote into policy the norms established to ensure the Department's independence, fair application of our laws, and adherence to the Rule of Law. Today, thanks in large part to him, those norms continue to guide the work of every Justice Department employee, every single day.” 

After leaving the Justice Department in 1982, Civiletti returned to Baltimore to rejoin the firm currently known as Venable LLC, where he had been a partner prior to his service in Washington. Civiletti focused his practice on commercial litigation, banking, white-collar crime, government regulation, and corporate governance. Moreover, he developed a practice in alternative dispute resolution, working as a mediator, facilitator, master, and arbitrator in many commercial and tort disputes. When Civiletti retired from Venable LLC in 2014, he was a senior partner and chairman emeritus. 

“Ben’s contributions to Venable were immense,” said Venable chairman Stuart Ingis. “He defined and exemplified Venable’s commitment to our clients, colleagues, and community. We are very proud that he will always be one of us.” 

A leader in the Maryland legal community, Civiletti served on several local and state-wide task forces and investigations, including the Governor’s plan for Welfare Reform in Maryland and, following the death of University of Maryland, College Park, basketball star Len Bias, the Governor’s Task Force to Investigate Student Drug Use in higher education in Maryland. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley ’88 appointed Civiletti in 2008 as chair of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. In November of that year, the commission recommended abolition of the death penalty to the Maryland General Assembly. 

His community work also included serving as a member of multiple bar associations, chair of the Section of Litigation of the American Bar Association, and a fellow of the American Law Institute and the American Bar Foundation. 

Upon his retirement, Maryland Carey Law established the Benjamin R. Civiletti Scholarship Fund through the generosity of Venable LLP, along with family, friends, and colleagues of Civiletti. The purpose of the fund is to provide endowed scholarship support for students who have a record of high academic achievement, demonstrated financial need, characteristics of leadership, and a commitment to public service. 

Born in 1935 in Peekskill, New York, Civiletti earned a degree in psychology from Johns Hopkins University in 1957 and graduated Order of the Coif from the then-University of Maryland School of Law in 1961. The law school honored him with the Distinguished Graduate Award in 1980. Civiletti’s papers are held as a special collection at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Thurgood Marshall Law Library. 

The family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Maryland Legal Aid or The Benjamin R. Civiletti Scholarship Endowment. 

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