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Monday, February 16, 2015

IRWIN BLOCK HAS DIED


THE CAPTAIN REPORTS:

IRWIN BLOCK HAS DIED ............... Services at 3PM today.

On July 31, 1963, two gas stations attendants were murdered in Port St. Joe, Florida, a small town located in the Panhandle of the State.  Within hours, the Gulf County Sheriff's Office had arrested Freddie Lee Pitts and Wilbert Lee.  Pitts and Lee were indicted on two counts of First Degree Murder.  On August 28, 1963, Judge W.L. Fitzpatrick sentenced both men to death.

You did not read that incorrectly folks.  It took 28 days from the day the crime was committed until the date that the death sentence was ordered.

For most of the next decade, a young attorney by the name of Irwin J. Block took on the cause of Pitts and Lee, pro bono, in a case that all Criminal Law 101 law students now study.  Block, along with Former Miami-Dade Public Defender Phillip Hubbart represented Pitts and Lee before the 1st DCA, the Florida Supreme Court, and the US Supreme Court; they also represented the two defendants in their 1972 retrial, (where they were again found guilty), and didn't stop fighting for the two men until Governor Ruben Askew pardoned both men in 1975. 

The Miami Herald summed it up best by saying of Block: "He was one of South Florida's most highly sought defense attorneys, a legal legend who helped get two black men off Florida death row in a 1963 murder they didn't commit."  Block also represented Clarence Gideon for a period of time as part of his work with the ACLU.

We did not know Irwin Block personally, but 3rd DCA Judge Kevin Emas did.  We asked Judge Emas if he could provide us with some personal words.  Here they are, unedited:

Captain:  I had the privilege of working with Irwin for six years while I was at Fine Jacobson Schwartz Nash Block and England. Here are a few thoughts.  Thanks for doing this.
 

Mr. Block

Irwin Block was old school.  87 years old and still going to work.  He loved the law.  He loved being a lawyer.  He loved being a trial lawyer.  And make no mistake about it.  Irwin was not a litigator.  He was a trial lawyer.  And he was extraordinary in trial.  Even opposing counsel in a trial would sometimes find themselves becoming spectators, watching with admiration as Irwin held the witness and the jury in the palm of his hand.   

Many of you know that Irwin Block (together with Phil Hubbart) represented Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, two black men charged with murder in St. Joe, Florida in 1963.  As a result of the efforts of Irwin and Phil, and those of Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Gene Miller, Pitts and Lee were pardoned after twelve years on death row for murders they did not commit.   

Irwin Block was involved in many high-profile cases over the course of his exceptional career.  But for all his talents as a trial lawyer, Irwin was a humble man.  He never sought the limelight, and bristled at the notion that he should ever be honored for just doing his job.  But honored he was, including the American Jewish Congress’ Judge Learned Hand Award, History Miami's Legal Legend Award, and the DCBA’s David W. Dyer Professionalism Award. 

Irwin was more interested in fighting for clients than fighting for causes.  Old school indeed.  He taught me much about being a trial lawyer.  I’ll never forget his cardinal rule:  “You can’t always outsmart the other side.  But you can always out-prepare them.”  As good as he was in trial, he was even better in pretrial strategy, motions and deposition.  He won hundreds of cases that would never see the light of a courtroom because of the damage he had done in deposition and pretrial motions.  Irwin left a legacy of excellence.  Each of us who knew him, who worked for him, who worked with him, who learned from him, has a profound respect that is difficult to explain in words.  But here’s just one example: Nearly every lawyer who worked with him, even after leaving the firm and establishing their own successful practice, would continue to call him Mr. Block when they saw him.   They felt it somehow disrespectful to call him anything else.  (I must confess that my first draft referred to him only as Mr. Block.  I hope he will forgive this final version.)

I’m not just a better lawyer for having known Mr. Block.  I’m a better person for having known Mr. Block.

A celebration of his life will be held on Monday February 16th at 3 PM at Beth Israel Memorial Chapel, 1115 Jog Road, Boynton Beach, FL - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/herald/obituary.aspx?n=irwin-j-block&pid=174159601&fhid=5131#sthash.FEeVtFpE.dpuf
A celebration of life will take place on Monday, February 16, 2015 at 3:00 PM at Beth Israel Memorial Chapel located at 1115 Jog Road, Boynton Beach.  Block was 87 years old.

His obits can be found here and here.

A celebration of his life will be held on Monday, February 16th at 3 PM at Beth Israel Memorial Chapel, located at 1115 Jog Road, Boynton Beach.

CAPTAIN OUT .............
Captain4Justice@gmail.com

He was known as someone with impeccable ethics and the highest level of professionalism and spent his career fighting for civil rights. He received numerous awards during his law career, including the David Dyer Professionalism Award (2011), the Judge Learned Hand Award (1989), the Dade County Bar Association Criminal Justice Award (1990) and the Metropolitan Dade County Florida Certificate of Appreciation. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/herald/obituary.aspx?n=irwin-j-block&pid=174159601&fhid=5131#sthash.FEeVtFpE.dpuf

17 comments:

william said...

One summer I clerked with FIne Jacobson..Linda Wells worked closely with Irvin..she showed me how to do research and find the law..Block was a gentleman and very cool...Ted Klein, Marty Fine and Joe Serota..all great people back then...I thought they would hire me but instead they picked Henry Latimer ..all old timers in higher court!!

Anonymous said...

My condolences to Irwin Block's family and friends. Although I never met him, I do know he was well respected and now that I know his connection to the Pitts & Lee case, hhe has my respect as well. However,please do no forget that the now deceased great polygraph examiner, Warren Holmes started the ball rolling on getting the pardon for Pills & Lee. Holmes took a poolygraph of a third party and inadvertentedly discovered the truth about who actually did the murder that Pitts & Lee were on death row for. He spent a lot of his own money to obtain justice for Pitts & Lee. I had the privedge of having lunch with Warren and Lee one afternoon at "Bob's Burgers". It was a great honor to be in their company.

Anonymous said...

Love the blog. We all read it at UM law. Little bit of hyperbole. No one I know has studied that case and it's not in my case book or the handouts.

Anonymous said...

Met Mr Block 16 years ago when I was a young PD. We discussed job options and my future. And with all due respect to him and Judge Emas all I saw was endless litigation scratching out a living or becoming a judge and being capped at 100k or whatever it was then. I took his advice and struck out for silicon valley. Got a masters in Comp sci from Stanford and used my knowledge of the legal system to design software for clerks offices and lawyers offices that can talk to each other. Also wrote some very profitable code for a Russian security software company. That got me 5% of the company. Last year my companies grossed 135 million. I have a private jet and a compound in Hawaii and a chalet in Vail. Every day I thank the good lord that I didn't sit around trying to befome the A pd in my division or leave to chase clients and bondsmen. But this is about Mr Block and he once gave me a half hour of his valuable time and I never forgot it. RIP.

the trialmaster said...

After I left goverment service in the late 70s I joined a well known civil firm for a short time. When leaving that firm to found my own firm the usual fight over cases and compensation occurred. Irwin took my case and argued against a well known insurance attorney. We won and Irwin refused to take any fee for his services. At the time he was president of the Dad County Bar and i am sure had his plate full of much more important matters. Over the years, when I would see him either in court at tending to his sailboat at Mathenson Hammock and would always try to thank him and he seemed embarassed that I brought it up. He was a true trial attorney and had the highest ethics anyone could have. A true gentleman in and out of court. Never tried to pull cheap tricks like the insurance attorneys of today. If all of the attorneys practicing today had half the ability and ethics of Mr. Block the profession would be much improved. We will never see the likes of him again. May he rest in peace.

David Deehl said...

Irwin Block was a lawyer's lawyer, and a judge's lawyer, too. He also was my father's best man, when he got married in the early 1950s. He was quite a fine person, who was an example for us all. He also took the time to mentor many, even a few times for me.

Anonymous said...

2:07 - what utter bullshit. A man died. Are you that desperate for attention?

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to Fine & Jacobson?

What a hamisha firm. OY.

Anonymous said...

I never saw any blog rules that said you can't say bad things about a person who just died but, think just for a moment. If you never read this blog, because you don't live in our world, and your loved one just died... how would you feel if you read negative stuff about your loved one?
I'm just sayin.......

Anonymous said...

It's Kaspersky, poser.

Anonymous said...

Great post Rump, I really love when this blog talks about South Florida legal history.

Anonymous said...

How am I a "wannabe?" Do I want to be the guy who in his "tribute" to a great man talks about himself for 95% of the post? You are either a liar or a complete douche.

CAPTAIN JUSTICE said...


9:01 AM;
Thanks for the compliment.

Can't a guy get any respect around here.

My wife wants sex in the back of the car and she wants me to drive. I get no respect.

My mother had morning sickness after I was born.

On Halloween, the parents sent their kids out looking like me.

I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof.

It's not easy being me. I get no respect.

Hey 9:01 AM. The post was written by The Captain!

Cap Out .....

South Florida Lawyers said...

Well done Cap!

Anonymous said...

Fake limited Bruce Fleischer to entire listserv: I tried many cases with Block. I found him to be good when I was trying death penalty cases that were featured on Dateline. I've tried many cases not involving Mr. Block on Dateline as well.

Anonymous said...

LOL Cap.

BTDT

Anonymous said...

I love this blog too!! Rump, you're the best. Captain is not too bad either.