Jack Weinstein, legal maverick on federal bench, dead at 99

Jun 15, 2021, 2:02 PM | Updated: 6:48 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Jack B. Weinstein, a former federal judge who earned a reputation as a tireless legal maverick while overseeing a series of landmark class-action lawsuits and sensational mob cases in New York City like that of the “Mafia Cops,” has died. He was 99.

A federal courthouse official, Eugene Corcoran, confirmed Weinstein’s death on 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 on the bench in Brooklyn before retiring last year. In a 2012 interview with The Associated Press, he said his longevity had its advantages.

“You don’t care really what people think of you,” the judge said. “You’re not going anyplace. You’re doing it for the joy. And as a public service.”

Weinstein was known for championing class-action litigation as the little guy’s remedy for alleged injustices by big industry.

He made headlines in 1984 by approving a settlement requiring herbicide makers to pay $180 million to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. He also presided over a 1999 trial ending in an unprecedented verdict finding handgun makers liable in shootings and negligent in their marketing practices. And in 2006, he gave the green light to a class-action suit brought by tens of millions of smokers seeking up to $200 billion from tobacco companies for allegedly duping them into buying light cigarettes.

His rulings often upset conservatives, who accused him of sacrificing judicial restraint to promote liberal causes. In many cases, appellate courts found that his decisions had overreached.

In a book about mass tort litigation, Weinstein espoused a belief in “humankind’s obligation 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 bit parts in Broadway shows and worked on the docks to put himself through school.

He later served in World War II before launching his legal career at Columbia Law School, where he graduated in 1948. He briefly went into private practice before serving as Nassau County Attorney from 1963 to 1965. He had returned to Columbia to teach when President Johnson named him to the federal bench in 1967.

The 6-foot-2 Weinstein was a stately presence in court, where he favored business suits over robes and sometimes ventured off the bench in the middle of trials to get a juror’s-eye view of the proceedings. He was impatient with long-winded lawyers, critical of sentencing guidelines he felt were too harsh on low-level criminals and concerned about judges falling prey to hubris.

“One danger that every judge must guard against is ego,” he wrote in his book. “The court must control its own sense of importance — sometimes a very difficult chore.”

He also expressed a faith in juries’ ability to tackle complex and contentious civil cases.

Should a jury “be permitted to decide a vexing private litigation … when the decision has so many important overtones, or should the judges themselves decide by holding that the matter is beyond the ken of a reasonable jury?” he wrote in the light cigarette case.

In 1997, Weinstein added his scholarly touch to a ruling affirming a 12-year prison term for Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the Mafia “Oddfather.” The boss of the Genovese organized crime family had escaped prosecution for years by wandering the streets in a ratty bathrobe like a madman.

Quoting Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” the judge wrote: “And one man in his time plays many parts. … Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness.”

Weinstein also put his unique stamp on perhaps the most stunning police corruption case in city history: the trial of two detectives accused of moonlighting as hitmen for the mob. After defendants Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa were convicted in 2006, the judge declared that they deserved life sentences for “the most heinous series of killings ever tried in this courthouse.”

A month later, he stunned prosecutors by throwing out the convictions based on defense arguments that the statute of limitations for the eight murders had expired. An appeals court overturned the decision.

Weinstein made news as late as 2019 by sentencing an American woman who admitted supporting the Islamic State group to four years in prison over the objection of prosecutors who wanted her locked up for decades.

True to form, he said the lenient sentence had the potential to “save her as a human being.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

California woman fakes cancer, forges notes to avoid prison

SAN DIEGO (AP) — One note submitted to the federal judge sentencing a 38-year-old California woman for embezzlement claimed that a biopsy had revealed “cancerous cells” in her uterus. Another indicated that she was undergoing a surgical procedure, and her cancer had spread to the cervix. Yet another letter warned she “cannot be exposed to […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Virgin Galactic taps Boeing subsidiary to build motherships

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Virgin Galactic announced Wednesday that it is partnering with a Boeing subsidiary to manufacture the next generation of the twin-fuselage aircraft used to carry aloft the space tourism company’s rocket ship. Aurora Flight Sciences will build two of the special carrier planes at its facilities in Mississippi and West Virginia. Final […]
16 hours ago
Two women visit a memorial to those killed and wounded in Monday's Fourth of July mass shooting, We...
Associated Press

Police: Parade shooting suspect contemplated 2nd shooting

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) — The man charged with killing seven people at an Independence Day parade confessed to police that he unleashed a hail of bullets from a rooftop in suburban Chicago and then fled to the Madison, Wisconsin, area, where he contemplated shooting up an event there, authorities said Wednesday. The suspect turned […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Ex-Texas chief deputy pleads guilty to using excessive force

TYLER, Texas (AP) — A former East Texas chief deputy pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating a prisoner’s civil rights by using excessive force on him, according to court documents. Steven Craig Shelton was the second-ranked official in the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office when the Sept. 21 incident happened at the county jail. During a […]
16 hours ago
FILE - This combination of 2022 and 2021 photos shows Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and gubernator...
Associated Press

Georgia’s Brian Kemp raises $3.8M for reelection bid

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday that his main campaign committee raised $3.8 million in the two months ended June 30, but heavy spending leading up to the Republican’s blowout primary win meant that Kemp’s total amount of cash on hand continued to decline. Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said the incumbent’s main […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Ex-alderman who’s part of Daley family sentenced to 4 months

CHICAGO (AP) — A grandson and nephew of Chicago’s two longest-serving mayors was sentenced to four months in prison Wednesday after being convicted of tax crimes and making false statements. Patrick Daley Thompson, 52, was accused of falsely claiming mortgage interest deductions and lying about lines of credit from the now-closed Washington Federal Bank for […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
Jack Weinstein, legal maverick on federal bench, dead at 99