What can you say about Senior Judge Jack Weinstein of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York that hasn’t already been said?
He still sits on the bench, or more often, at a conference table in his courtroom in a suit rather than robes. “People have a much more rational discussion when they sit face to face” said Weinstein. “Issues that seem irresolvable are often resolved with people sitting face to face.”
Weinstein, who is 96-years-old, grew up in Brooklyn, just a few miles from his chambers on Cadman Plaza. “I worked my way through college on the docks, where I met rich people and poor people” said Weinstein.
“I had a fine public school education and a free Columbia education, thanks to the GI Bill,” said the World War II veteran.
Weinstein was part of the legal team in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1952. In 1967, he was appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon Johnson.
The Judge sat on the Agent Orange case, ultimately convincing litigants and defendants to settle out of court for $180 million. Case files from that litigation fill many a dusty file cabinet near the Judge’s chambers, which offer stunning views of the New York skyline, the Empire State Building, World Trade Center and the Brooklyn Bridge.
But looking at the collection of memorabilia inside his chambers tells you more about the man than his million dollar views.
There are certificates and celebratory parchments lauding Judge Weinstein as a teacher, a mentor, a lawyer and a judge. There’s a two-foot-tall stuffed penguin perched on a ring binder of sentencing guidelines.
There are wooden gavels, crystal gavels and posters from July 4th celebrations in New York Harbor. There are posters from his 75th birthday celebration, held 21 years before.
There are photos. Lots of photographs of family and wedding photos from his nuptials to wife Susan, three years ago and of his first wife Evie, who died five years ago. The couple had been married 70 years.
There are photographs with handwritten notes from Supreme Court justices. Judge Weinstein still sends those handwritten notes too, always ending them with the word “Fondly” before his signature, “If I like them,” said the judge.
John Gleeson, a former United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York, while presenting the NYLJ Lifetime Achievement Award to Judge Weinstein in 2013 called him “the living legend of the Eastern District and the federal bench.”
“He’s not just a brilliant, trailblazing judge, a first-ballot Hall of Famer if only we had one. He’s also generous, funny, kind, caring, magnetic, inspiring,” Gleeson added.
And Weinstein is a workhorse, plowing through cases and in busy times, when everyone’s work backs up. “Send me all the backed-up work,” he says, according to Judge Gleeson.
Weinstein eats well, avoiding red meat and more often opting for fish and chicken. The judge, who had hip replacement surgery recently, is looking to get back to his daily laps in a swimming pool, next week.
The hip replacement hasn’t interfered with his love of New York though. He enjoyed “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Metropolitan Opera last night with his wife and “Come from Away,” the Broadway musical about flights grounded in Gander, Newfoundland on 9.11, the week before.
“The day before going to the play I had gone to the 9.11 Memorial,” said Judge Weinstein. “I went to the memorial and put my hand on the names and broke down weeping for all the lives lost” the Judge said.
Passerby comforted him, putting their hands on his back and asking to hear stories of World War II. Judge Weinstein called it “New York at its finest.”
Judicial colleagues, lawyers and court personnel are amazed by the judge’s energy and intelligence. “Imagine a colleague who still has an insatiable intellectual curiosity and boundless energy well into his tenth decade” said Judge Gleeson. “No book worth reading goes unread. Speakers arrive and enlighten, and movies are screened, at his request.”
“He can make others laugh, and much more importantly he can laugh at himself” said Gleeson.
Weinstein returns the kind words. “I’m so blessed to have such wonderful colleagues. I can’t wait to get into the office every day,” he said.