In Memoriam: Legal Lives Lost To Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic has not spared the legal profession.

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Take it from me: Covid-19 is not a hoax.

As many of you may know, in March I came down with a severe case of Covid-19. I spent 17 days in the hospital, including almost a week in critical condition in the ICU, hooked up to a ventilator. I ran up a $320,000 hospital bill (which I thankfully did not have to pay). Even after getting out of the hospital, I experienced a painfully slow recovery, including a terrible cough and shortness of breath that lasted for months.

And I consider myself lucky. Thanks to the valiant efforts of my care team at NYU Langone here in New York, as well as the prayers and support of so many in the legal profession and beyond, I survived my Covid-19 ordeal, and I feel fairly recovered today. Many Americans — more than 280,000 dead, as of this writing, and an unknown number with lingering health effects — have not been as fortunate.

The coronavirus pandemic has not spared the legal profession. I suspect that many of us personally know, or are just a few degrees removed from, lawyers or judges who lost their lives to Covid-19. One thing I’ve learned from my years working in and covering the legal profession is that it’s a surprisingly small world — and it grows only smaller in grief.

I’d like to use this post to acknowledge some of those we as a profession have lost. I’ll mention two by way of example, but they are just two of many.

One was someone I was proud to call a friend, Stephen D. Susman. Steve was one of the nation’s greatest trial lawyers, founder and managing partner of Susman Godfrey, one of the nation’s greatest law firms. On April 22 of this year, Steve — an avid cyclist, who every year biked 180 miles from Houston to Austin to raise money for multiple sclerosis research — sustained a serious head injury in a cycling accident.

I had last seen Steve and his wife, Ellen Spencer Susman, at a dinner party hosted by mutual friends in November 2019. It was shortly before Thanksgiving, and I remember chatting with Ellen in our friends’ foyer about our respective holiday plans.

Steve was, as usual, in fine form that evening — a great storyteller, as you’d expect from a legendary trial lawyer, with a mischievous glint in his eye. He could be a bit of a joker, and every time we crossed paths, he subjected me to good-natured teasing about something or other. Whenever I was with Steve, I somehow always wound up in the role of “straight man” (not my typical role).

Despite his ferocity in the courtroom, Steve was caring and compassionate outside of it. When I was in the hospital in late March, he emailed me a note of encouragement and support. When I belatedly responded to thank him in late April, after getting home from the hospital, his son Harry Susman replied from his father’s account, sharing with me the news of his dad’s bike accident.

Steve was unconscious for several weeks. Ever the fighter, he regained consciousness by mid-May and was recovering well in a Houston rehabilitation facility. He improved to the point where he was responding physically to verbal commands, talking, and even singing some of his favorite songs, such as “I Walk the Line” and “Under the Boardwalk.”

On June 24, however, Steve was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. He passed away a few weeks later, on July 14. Ellen announced his death on the CaringBridge website, where many of us had been following his struggle:

Our gallant Steve left us today. He fought a valiant battle, from his accident to rehab, but the combination of COVID and his weakened lungs were finally too much for his body. We are brokenhearted, but at peace with the fact that he is free and whole at last. He went peacefully, and we were by his side.

Rest in peace, Steve. You are sorely missed by so many of us.

Steve was a titan of the bar. A few weeks later, Covid-19 claimed a titan of the bench.

On August 7, Judge Stephen F. Williams, a longtime member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, passed away from complications of the coronavirus. Judge Williams was one of the most brilliant and highly esteemed members of the D.C. Circuit, the most powerful and prestigious court after the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan eulogized his colleague well:

[Judge Williams] committed his professional life to teaching, writing, and serving the public, including service on our court for more than three decades. He had an uncommon love of ideas, an extraordinarily broad-ranging intellectual curiosity, an infectiously good-spirited demeanor, and a joyful sense of humor. We have been immeasurably enriched by the privilege of serving with him.

We will sorely miss our dear friend, and will long cherish fond memories of engaging with him on the work of the court, of sharing a smile with him about matters large and small, and of seeing him on his trademark bike rides to and from the courthouse. We extend our deepest condolences to Judge Williams’s wife Faith and their children, grandchildren, and extended family.

Judge Williams, rest in peace.

I would like to maintain a running list of people in the legal profession who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. It is fitting and proper for us to remember them, even if this list is just a small thing. I’ll include judges, lawyers, law professors, law students, paralegals, legal assistants, and anyone else who would be considered part of the legal community, broadly defined. If you have a name to add, please email me at davidlat@substack.com, subject line “In Memoriam.”

Please provide me with the person’s name and affiliation, as well as a link to a publicly available news article, obituary, or death notice. Out of respect for the privacy of deceased individuals and their families, I will limit my list to people whose passings are already noted online.

Here is an initial list, which I will maintain here and update from time to time. I have listed the individuals in alphabetical order by last name, followed by their current (as of the time of their death) or former affiliation.

Each person’s name links to an article, obituary, death notice, or other confirmation of their passing. As you can see, the coronavirus has claimed lives from across the country and from so many different precincts of the profession — from the federal, state, and local benches, and from Biglaw to boutiques and beyond.

Please keep these individuals and their families in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

In Memoriam (as of February 23, 2021 — this date will be changed with each update)

Donald Adair, founding partner, Adair Law Firm, Rochester, New York

Donn Baker, judge, City of Tahlequah Municipal Court, and former U.S. attorney, Eastern District of Oklahoma

Lawrence Barber, solo practitioner, Odessa, Texas

Karen Batten, judge, Brantley County Probate Court, Georgia

Johnny Lee Baynes, justice, Supreme Court of New York (Kings County)

Allan S. Botter, solo practitioner, Garden City, New York

Russ Broman, special assistant district attorney, Allegheny County District Attorney, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

George H. Carley, former chief justice, Supreme Court of Georgia

Benton (Ben) Chafin Jr., Virginia state senator

Michael Cooper, of counsel and former partner, Sullivan & Cromwell, New York

Melton Cude, judge, Wise County Court at Law No. 1, Texas

Noach Dear, justice, Supreme Court of New York (Kings County)

Francis DeCaro, former solo practitioner, New Rochelle, New York

William J. Doyle, former partner, Wiggin and Dana LLP, Branford, Connecticut

Stanley Dreyer, former partner, Gallet Dreyer & Berkey LLP, New York, New York

Bruce Drucker, former managing partner, Rivkin Radler LLP, Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Kevin Thomas Duffy, former judge, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Raymond P. D'Uva, founding partner, D’Uva Law Firm, Newark, New Jersey

Steven M. Edwards, of counsel, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, and former partner, Hogan Lovells US LLP, New York

JoEllen Engelbart, assistant prosecutor, Jackson County, Missouri

Mike Farley, former partner, Holland & Hart, Denver, Colorado

Jon FitzMaurice, former solo practitioner, Tuckahoe, New York

Phil Foglia, special deputy and chief of investigations, New York State Inspector General’s Office, New York, New York

Mayer Greenberg, partner, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and former partner, Stroock & Stroock & Levan LLP, New York, New York

Robin Greenfield, former executive deputy counsel, New York City Department of Education, New York, New York

Ray Grimes, judge, Montgomery County General Sessions Court, Georgia

William (Bill) Hyder, William F Hyder P.C., Scottsdale, Arizona

Paul Kalill, partner, Kalill Glasser & Associates, Springfield, Massachusetts

Joseph V. Kaplan, partner, Passman & Kaplan P.C., Washington, D.C.

Charles Kleinberg, former assistant U.S. attorney, Eastern District of New York

Ruth Klotz, district associate probate judge, Judicial District 5, Iowa

Thomas J. Leonard, partner, Barry, McTiernan & Moore, Montclair, New Jersey

Robert D. Lipman, founding partner, Lipman & Plesur, Jericho, New York

Tyler Charles Lockett, former justice, Kansas Supreme Court

Jim McGoldrick, professor of law, Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law

Henry G. Miller, senior partner, Clark, Gagliardi & Miller, P.C., and former president, New York State Bar Association, White Plains, New York

Steven Milligram, justice, Supreme Court of New York (Orange County)

Jon Payne, judge, Chattooga County Probate Judge, Georgia

Brenda Ravenell, former member, Giscombe & Ravenell LLP, East Orange, New Jersey

Stephen L. Reineke, partner, Levinson, Reineke & Kimple, Central Valley, New York

Dalton Roberson, former judge, Wayne County Circuit Court, Michigan

Mordie Rochlin, of counsel and former partner, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP, New York, New York

Barbara Ann Rowan, assistant U.S. attorney, Southern District of New York

George Salerno, former justice, Supreme Court of New York (Kings County)

Angelo Scaricamazza, partner, Naulty, Scaricamazza & McDevitt LLC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Joseph A. Sena, Jr., solo practitioner, White Plains, New York

Louis G. Solimano, counsel, Law Office of William A. Gallina, Bronx, New York

Nancy Stephenson, judge, Dougherty County Probate Judge, Georgia

Steven Susman, managing partner and founder, Susman Godfrey LLP, Houston, Texas

David Sweetwood, founding partner, Sweetwood & Toor

Rice M. Tilley Jr., former senior counsel, Haynes and Boone LLP, Fort Worth, Texas

George Valentine, deputy director for the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, Washington, D.C.

Paul L. Weafer, former chief counsel, New York State Legislative Bill Drafting Commission, Albany, New York

Richard Weber Jr., partner, Gallo Vitucci Klar LLP, New York, New York

Harold Weisman, former partner, Weisman & Calderon LLP, Hartsdale, New York

Stephen F. Williams, judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Washington, D.C.


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