In what is expected to become an annual event, the Connecticut Bar Foundation is planning a symposium event in honor of U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz, whose distinguished legal career is, tragically, coming to a close.

Kravitz has ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He continues, with great courage and determination, to appear in court and perform judicial duties.

Bar Foundation President Timothy Fisher and William Prout, chair of the foundation’s planning committee, are working on the inaugural event of the Judge Mark Kravitz Symposium Series, which is scheduled for the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 4 at the New Haven Lawn Club.

The foundation has also commissioned a portrait of Kravitz to be presented to the U.S. District Court in New Haven in late October or early November, said Prout.

The topic for the initial symposium, “The Vanishing Trial,” is one of particular significance to Kravitz, who was an accomplished trial and appellate lawyer at New Haven-based Wiggin and Dana for 27 years before his appointment to the federal bench in 2003. Kravitz, who was a U.S. Supreme Court law clerk for Justice William Rehnquist, has also taught at Yale Law School and regularly contributed articles on appellate practice to the National Law Journal, an affiliate of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

In 2005, Kravitz authored an article on the vanishing trial for the Connecticut Bar Journal, and Kravitz subsequently made the keynote speech to the annual bar foundation fellows’ reception. As more and more cases settle before trial, or through alternative dispute resolution, young lawyers have fewer opportunities to learn how to litigate, and courts cut back on the resources and services they provide, the article noted.

“We chose the vanishing trial as the topic for a number of reasons,” said Fisher, whose three-year presidency of the bar foundation concludes in March. “It was something that could be of concern not just to lawyers, but also to the courts and to clients.”

Legal controversies that go all the way to the formal resolution of a trial, Fisher noted, “provide case law and result in published decisions, and provide guidance to the public about the outcome of a dispute. That has a crucial role in a constitutional democracy, and we need to understand whether it’s as vibrant a role as it has been in the past.”

The half-day program will feature three panels, said Prout, whose committee is putting the finishing touches on the planning. The first panel will feature a distinguished academic scholar and top judicial executives in the state and federal courts. The second panel will also feature a top legal scholar, with plaintiffs and defendants trial lawyers, as well as attorneys giving the perspective of in-house and government counsel.

The final panel, featuring a prominent jurist who has concentrated on the phenomenon of fewer and fewer full trials in the courts, will be rounded out with other interesting trial lawyers, judges and academics. “It will examine the question of what are we, being the bar and judicial system, going to do about it?” said Prout.

Plenty Of Help

Prout added that he has received help in the planning from a number of sources, including U.S. District Judge Janet Hall. Others aiding the process include former state Supreme Court Justice Barry Schaller; outgoing Quinnipiac University School of Law Dean Brad Saxton and bar foundation committee members and staff.

In addition, Prout credited incoming bar foundation president Peter Arakas, who is general counsel of Lego Systems Inc. in Enfield; trial lawyers William Clendenen, of New Haven; James Robertson, of Waterbury’s Carmody & Torrance; and Ernest Teitell, of Stamford’s Silver, Golub & Teitell.

Bar Foundation Executive Director Sandra Klebanoff confirmed the upcoing event is free and open to the public. In April, the annual bar foundation fellows reception and awards event was a standing-room-only affair, with a large turnout of friends, colleagues and admirers of Kravitz.

These days, according to lawyers who have practiced before Kravitz, the progress of his untreatable illness has partially paralyzed his throat muscles to the point where he needs an abdominal feeding tube to take nourishment. He has to struggle to make his voice heard to courtroom participants.

Ridgefield artist Daniel Mark Duffy met with Kravitz at the New Haven federal courthouse this summer to get to know his subject in his setting. Kravitz is not able to pose for the portrait, which is currently in the process of being completed, and Duffy is working from photographs as well.•