Milton H. Ellerin
Milton H. Ellerin (Courtesy of Ellerin Family)

Milton Harry Ellerin, a longtime solo practitioner in New York City, died Wednesday after a long illness. He was 89.

Ellerin, a litigator, spent most of his five-decade career as a solo, with brief stints in a law firm and the Legal Aid Society. He conducted a general practice, handling cases ranging from personal injury to commercial to matrimonial and criminal.

He specialized, however, in cases where people could not afford counsel. “Especially if it was a hopeless cause that no one thought they’d win, he took the case,” said his son, Seth Ellerin, a litigator in Houston, Texas. “The cause mattered more than the money. He was a true gentleman and true general practitioner.”

Former clients kept in touch and kept thanking him decades later, his son added.

“He was an old country lawyer, one of the last of that kind of lawyer,” said his wife, Betty Weinberg Ellerin, a retired justice of the Appellate Division, First Department who is now senior counsel to Alston & Bird. “There was no case he couldn’t handle or provide some kind of solace to a person in need.”

In the latter part of Ellerin’s career, he provided legal advice on matters to Leahey & Johnson. He retired about a decade ago.

Ellerin was born and raised in Middletown, N.Y. At age 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He landed in Normandy, within days of D-Day.

When he returned to the U.S., Ellerin attended Union College in Schenectady, graduating in 1948, then earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1951. He served as a counterintelligence officer in the Korean War before starting his legal career.

In 1953, Ellerin began working as a maritime lawyer for a firm called Klein & Ruderman. There he met his future wife, then a law clerk managing attorney assignments.

“He’d just graduated from Harvard, and he said, ‘I’ve never seen a summons and complaint. Can you show me?’” Betty Ellerin said. “Could romance be far behind?”

They married on July 31, 1953, eloping to Connecticut. Throughout their marriage, Betty Ellerin said her husband was “very supportive of my aspirations.” Sometimes people would mistakenly address him as “Judge,” but he would point to his wife, saying, “Not me. Her,” she said.

Betty Ellerin was the first woman to serve as deputy chief administrative judge for New York City courts as well as the first woman to serve on the First Department appeals court.

“He was a wonderful father,” she added, noting that her husband had a “shared parenting” arrangement “long before that term was coined.”

Ellerin is survived by his wife; his son Seth and another son, Bruce Ellerin; his daughter, Beatrice Ellerin, and three grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held today at 1:15 p.m. at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 180 West 76th Street. Donations in his memory can be made to Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Hospice & Palliative Care.