NEW YORK (AP) – Jack B. Weinstein, a former federal judge who has earned a reputation as a relentless legal loner during a string of groundbreaking class-action lawsuits and sensational mob cases in New York City including the “Mafia Cops,” died. He was 99.
A federal court official Eugene Corcoran confirmed Weinstein’s death Tuesday. The judiciary has “lost a national treasure,” Corcoran said in a statement.
Weinstein, a World War II veteran appointed by President Lyndon Johnson, had spent more than five decades in the Brooklyn bank before retiring last year. In a 2012 interview with The Associated Press, he said its longevity has its advantages.
“You don’t care what people think of you,” said the judge. â€œYou’re not going anywhere. You do it for joy. And as a public service. “
Weinstein was known for advocating class action lawsuits as the little guy’s tool against alleged injustices in big industry.
He made headlines in 1984 when he approved a settlement requiring herbicide manufacturers to pay $ 180 million to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. He also headed a lawsuit in 1999 that resulted in an unprecedented verdict that found handgun manufacturers liable for shootings and negligently found their marketing practices. And in 2006, he gave the go-ahead to a class action lawsuit filed by tens of millions of smokers demanding up to $ 200 billion from tobacco companies for allegedly getting them to buy light cigarettes.
His judgments often angered conservatives, who accused him of sacrificing legal restraint to advance liberal concerns. In many cases, the appellate courts found that his decisions had gone too far.
In a book on mass crime proceedings, Weinstein advocated the belief in the “obligation of mankind to create a just society”.
Weinstein was born in Wichita, Kansas, but grew up in Harlem and Brooklyn. As a teenager in the 1930s, he played small roles on Broadway shows and worked on the docks to get his way through school.
He later served during World War II before beginning his legal career at Columbia Law School, where he graduated in 1948. He briefly went into private practice before serving as the Nassau County attorney from 1963 to 1965. He had returned to Columbia to teach when President Johnson appointed him to the Bundesbank in 1967.
The 6-foot-2 Weinstein made a handsome presence in court, preferring business suits over robes, and sometimes venturing off the bank in the middle of legal proceedings to see the proceedings from a jury’s point of view. He was impatient with lengthy attorneys, criticized the sentencing guidelines, which he felt were too strict on low-level criminals, and worried that judges would fall victim to hubris.
â€œOne danger that every judge must beware of is the ego,â€ he wrote in his book. “The court has to control its own sense of meaning – sometimes a very difficult task.”
He also expressed his confidence in the juries’ ability to handle complex and contentious civil matters.
Should a jury “be allowed to resolve an annoying private litigation … when the decision has so many important undertones, or should the judges themselves decide that the matter is impossible for a sensible jury to do?” He wrote in the light cigarette case.
In 1997, Weinstein added his scientific note to a verdict confirming a 12-year prison sentence for Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the “Oddfather” of the Mafia. The head of the Genovese organized crime family had escaped prosecution for years by roaming the streets like a madman in a ragged bathrobe.
The judge quoted Shakespeare’s â€œAs You Like Itâ€: â€œAnd a man plays many roles in his day. … The last scene of everything that ends this strangely checkered story is the second childhood. “
Weinstein also left his unique stamp on what is perhaps the most impressive case of police corruption in the city’s history: the trial of two detectives accused of undeclared work as contract killers for the mob. After convicting Defendants Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa in 2006, the judge declared that they deserved life sentences for “the most heinous series of murders ever tried in this courthouse”.
A month later, he stunned prosecutors by dismissing the convictions on defense arguments that the statute of limitations on the eight murders had expired. An appeals court overturned the decision.
Weinstein didn’t hit the headlines until 2019 when he sentenced an American who admitted to supporting the Islamic State group to four years in prison over the objection of prosecutors who tried to detain her for decades.
True to his statement, he said that the mild verdict had the potential to “save you as a person”.
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