We’ve been robbed of a gem, by a disease as mysterious and elusive today as when it claimed the life of the sports legend whose name is synonymous with it. Like a thief, ALS took Judge Mark R. Kravitz. ALS is at once cruel and merciful — cruel because it spares the mind while attacking everything else; merciful because, as Judge Kravitz said last year, there is no physical pain.
He was only 62 years old when he died. To say that ALS could have chosen an earlier arrival and grabbed him when he was 52, thus not only depriving his family and friends of Mark Kravitz the man, but the legal community of Mark Kravitz the judge, seems a small consolation.
We did have Judge Kravitz for nine years, and for that we are thankful. In that relatively short tenure on the federal bench, Judge Kravitz distinguished himself in every way, earning affection and esteem from all corners of the bar. He was also prolific, authoring some 700 opinions. He did not keep lawyers and litigants waiting too long for them either. He had a brilliant mind, but more. Not every intellectual can write, and Judge Kravitz was an amazingly gifted writer. I would read lengthy opinions from him even if they concerned issues of law irrelevant to my practice, simply because they were a pleasure to read for their elegance. I would tell colleagues and young lawyers who wanted to be better writers to read Judge Kravitz.
Many had the privilege of knowing Mark Kravitz as a lawyer and appellate star. Even plaintiffs lawyers, who saw their trial court victories erased on appeal because of Kravitz’s formidable ability to dissect a record, detect error and persuade an appellate court of it, held him in high esteem for his courtesy, integrity, and fair dealing. He exemplified the best in the bar on so many counts. But those who practiced in the district court and interacted with Mark Kravitz the judge had an even greater privilege. For them, the sense of loss is particularly keen.
I was one of those lawyers who had the opportunity to litigate cases before Judge Kravitz. I loved being in his court. I loved arguing points of law before him because he loved the exercise. If you were going to argue a summary judgment motion before him, you had to prepare well or suffer the embarrassment of Judge Kravitz displaying a better command of the evidence than you. He was like a sponge, absorbing the details of what every witness said at a deposition. He made you a better lawyer.
I remember Judge Kravitz’s kindness when a juror in a case I tried before him pestered me after the trial. The juror kept trying to contact me, even after I rebuffed his efforts to discuss the case with me. When the juror made a third attempt to speak to me — this time by blocking my car as I attempted to leave a store — I had to call Judge Kravitz again. He asked me if I felt unsafe. I said no; I was just creeped out a bit. He was genuinely concerned and giving of his time. Judge Kravitz called the juror himself. Needless to say, I never heard from that man again.
I never won a case with Judge Kravitz and worse, I lost an important ruling in the one case on which I spent the most time with him. I remember my deep disappointment at that ruling, and my own feelings of inadequacy in failing to convince him of the merits of my position. But I knew two things: he was super smart, and he was an honest judge. The second quality — ethics — is even more important than the first. And when a judge has both, the lawyer and client are blessed, and the rule of law has a guardian.
I was to argue another case before Judge Kravitz sometime in the next few months. I had so looked forward to it. I knew he could no longer speak, but he could listen, he could analyze, he could read, and he could once again issue an opinion that, no matter where it landed me, I would relish reading. Now I will not have the pleasure of another back-and-forth with that true judge. During the most recent status conference with him, it was clear to me that we were about to lose him. I was uncharacteristically quiet, afraid that if I spoke, he would detect that I was choking back tears.
The mark of a bad judge is a bar split; that is, one side rejoices in fetching the assignment, and the other side wants to scream. Those judges are few. The mark of a good judge is the number of lawyers who are content with the assignment. Those judges abound. The mark of a great judge, however, is the number of lawyers who haven’t won a thing in his court and have time and again been on the losing end of his rulings, but cannot wait to draw him again.
Norm Pattis said that of Judge Kravitz. I say that of Judge Kravitz and as readers know, Norm and I rarely agree on much. But on this we and so many others are of one mind. Mark Kravitz was a great judge. More importantly, he was a good and decent man. •