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.
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
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 .............
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