Wednesday, September 27, 2006
It is with great sadness that I report that U.S. Magistrate Ted Klein has passed away today. He was a gem of a person and a judge, and our community has suffered a great loss. He loved being a Magistrate Judge, loved being at the courthouse everyday, and loved working in this District. What a huge loss.
UPDATE: Here is Jay Weaver's very nice and lengthy obit:
Federal Magistrate Ted Klein dies at age 66
U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Klein, recognized as one of the sharpest legal minds in South Florida during a storied career as both a defense lawyer and federal prosecutor, died this afternoon of a lung disease.
Klein, 66, passed away at South Miami Hospital after battling a mysterious lung ailment that family members say may have been caused by exposure to mold spores in his home. Klein, appointed as a federal magistrate nearly three years ago, fell ill in December 2005 and had been hospitalized since June.
His brother, Hank Klein, said Ted's illness came as a shock to family, friends and others who knew him because he exercised regularly, ate healthy foods and never smoked.
''We don't know what caused this disease,'' said Klein, vice chairman of Codina Realty Services. ``He didn't smoke. He skied several times during the winter. He hiked during the summer. He jogged all the time. He was in excellent shape for a man of 66. That's why it comes as such a surprise to everyone.
``It's damn bad luck.''
Ted Klein was born in Czechoslovakia in 1940 during the Nazi occupation. His father, Rabbi Maurice Klein, escaped from a forced labor camp run by the Hungarian army and persuaded his wife, Sara, that they had to leave their homeland to survive.
They fled with the young Klein, then 9 months old, and his sister, Miriam, then 4. The family left Lisbon by ship on May 15, 1941, and immigrated to the United States, settling later with friends in the Cleveland area.
His parents eventually relocated the family to Miami in 1957. Klein enrolled at the University of Miami, where he studied finance. He was known as a bookworm and served as treasurer of the student body. He later graduated from UM law school, where he held the prestigious post as associate editor of the Law Review.
''He was the book guy and the nerd,'' said U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez, a UM schoolmate. ``I was the sports guy and the president of my fraternity.''
''He got the top grades in his class,'' said Donald Bierman, another UM law alumnus, adding that Klein was a ``compulsive preparer.''
After finishing at UM, Klein earned a master's degree in law at Yale University. Then he began making his mark in Miami's legal community.
In the late 1960s, Klein became a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office. Among Klein's peers: Martinez and Bierman, a future law partner.
Martinez said they would regularly go out for lunch at a local Cuban restaurant and talk about their cases -- and anything else that struck their interest.
''One time we were talking about mosquitoes of all things,'' said Martinez, who credited Klein with helping him get hired by the U.S. attorney's office after a stint in the Navy. ``Ted went to the library and memorized the names of about 650 mosquitoes.''
During that period, Klein and his wife, Leslie, started a family. The couple, who later divorced, had two children, Jennifer and Andrew, who grew up to become a Yale University history professor and a Miami psychologist, respectively.
Andrew Klein said his father -- along with his mother -- guided him through life's ups and downs.
''I've always been so proud of him and what he's done,'' said Andrew Klein. ``I've always looked up to him for everything. He had such a great sense of humor and was always able to give the support and guidance I needed to find my own direction.''
He said his father had that kind of impact on a lot of people in the community, noting, for example, that he taught countless students about trial law as a UM adjunct professor for nearly 30 years.
Jennifer Klein praised both her parents in the acknowledgment of her recent book, For All These Rights: Business, Labor, and the Shaping of America's Public-Private Welfare State.
''They really were a model for me of political courage, integrity and humanism,'' she said. ``I always saw my father as a person who stood up for what was right.''
As an example, she said her father resigned from the Dade Heritage Trust, a historic preservation group, because it held its annual meeting in 1984 at Miami Beach's long-restrictive Bath Club.
She also said her father devoted most of his career to representing defendants because he viewed their right to counsel as vital to a functioning democracy.
''He was committed to the notion that a democratic society had to have a strong defense bar,'' she said, citing her father's narrow 1983 U.S. Supreme Court victory in an unreasonable search and seizure case on police profiling of drug suspects at airports.
Ted Klein spent most of his career at the prestigious Miami law firm, Fine Jacobson Schwartz Nash Block & England. He earned a reputation as formidable defense lawyer in white-collar, health-care and financial-fraud cases over more than two decades. Klein, listed in The Best Lawyers in America and a former member of the Florida Bar board of governors, almost became a federal judge after President Clinton nominated him.
''When I saw that Ted applied in 1993, I wrote a letter to [then-Florida Sen.] Bob Graham,'' said Martinez, who had applied a year earlier for another opening on the federal bench. ``I said as much as I would like to be a federal judge, the most qualified person was Ted Klein. I wanted it, but not at the expense of Ted Klein.''
Klein had been granted a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in late 1993, but politics -- including a Republican takeover of Congress -- delayed a vote on his confirmation.
In early 1995, he said in letter to Clinton that the breakup of his old law firm, Fine Jacobson, ''has had devastating financial consequences for me,'' and that he has decided to form a new law firm in Miami with a couple of longtime friends, Bierman and Ed Shohat.
In one of Klein's more memorable criminal cases, he teamed up with Bierman to defend former Miami-Dade County seaport director Carmen Lunetta. Lunetta was indicted along with two port businessmen of stealing up to $1.5 million in public money and diverting it for illegal campaign donations and personal uses.
After government prosecutors rested, U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks expressed dismay over ''substantial evidence of greed and public corruption.'' But he directed a verdict of acquittal for Lunetta and the co-defendants, saying they couldn't have stolen the money because it didn't belong to the county -- it belonged to the private firm that operated the port's huge gantry cranes.
In 2003, when there was an opening for a magistrate judge in Miami, Klein's name was at the top of the list. Sworn in that fall, Klein presided over arraignments, bond hearings and pretrial motions -- including a complex case involving Cali cartel founders Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez-Orejuela.
Klein was respected by both prosecutors and defense lawyers, who remembered him as a persuasive advocate and fair judge.
''As a defense lawyer and magistrate, he was always a pleasure to deal with and he did it with a smile,'' said veteran federal prosecutor Dick Gregorie.
Klein was also known for his quick wit.
When a longtime fugitive who had been living the high life in suburban Pinecrest appeared before Klein on drug charges, the defendant's attorney said his client, Rafael Franco, had an alias.
''He was running around with a driver's license in the name Jorge Alonso,'' Klein noted.
''This is Miami,'' attorney Frank Quintero quipped, speculating Franco could have had a secret girlfriend.
''The rules are different here,'' said Klein, parroting a legendary tourism tag line.
The courtroom erupted in laughter.
Klein's brother, Hank, said that was his favorite place: ``He just loved his work and had a love for the law.''
In addition to his mother, son, daughter, brother and former wife, Klein is survived by his fiancée, Donna Syrop, and a sister, Miriam Klein Kassenoff, a Holocaust educator in the Miami-Dade public school system.
A funeral service is planned for 10 a.m. Friday at Temple Beth Am, 5950 N. Kendall Dr., in Pinecrest.
A scholarship has been established in Klein's name at UM law school. Donations may be made to the University of Miami School of Law, Alumni and Development Office, P.O. Box 248087, Coral Gables, FL.