Michael Dontzin, a former Manhattan Supreme Court justice, died at his New York City home June 22 after a long battle with cancer. He was 89.
Dontzin was born in New York City. He was a corpsman in the U.S. Navy during World War II, received his B.A. from New York University in 1948 and earned his law degree from NYU School of Law three years later. He was admitted to the bar in 1952.
Early in his career Dontzin worked as a trial lawyer in private practice at Mazur Dontzin Mazur.
In 1966, he was appointed as deputy counsel to Mayor John Lindsay and later became counsel. In this position, he served as the liaison to the police department, prisons and court system, as well as led the mayor’s screening committee on the judiciary.
In 1972, he was appointed judge of the New York City criminal court and was elected to Manhattan Supreme Court in 1976, where he served until reaching the mandatory retirement age in 1992.
Among the cases Dontzin handled during his tenure on the bench was a lawsuit brought by Mayor Edward I. Koch on behalf of the city against Con Edison to recover damages sustained in connection with the 1977 blackout. Dontzin’s holding that a prior determination that the utility was grossly negligent was binding, permitting the city to recover damages, was upheld by the Court of Appeals.
Following his retirement, Dontzin became the chief judicial officer at Endispute, which later became JAMS, where he resolved disputes involving securities and banking law, commercial contract rights, fraud and employment discrimination.
In 1993, he and his son Matthew founded The Dontzin Law Firm, an international litigation boutique, where he continued to practice until his death.
“My father spent the bulk of his life dedicated to public service, with the passion and determination to make our town more livable and life in it more just,” Matthew said, adding that his father’s “judgment about how to handle a case was impeccable.”
In addition to Matthew, Dontzin is survived by his wife, Janet Sarno; one daughter, Lisa; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations may be made to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, nationalmssociety.org.