MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Judge Gerald “Gerry” Klein, a fixture on South Florida television sets for years, died Sunday at the age of 90.
Klein, who served a total 48 years on the bench – thought to be the longest tenure of any state judge in Florida history – succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s.
“There was a lot of humanity in him,” said attorney Emilio De La Cal. “I read about his passing and it pained me.”
Klein was known for his fairness, but could also be tough.
He had a soft spot for kids.
In 2003, a defense attorney asked for a reduced bond for a teacher accused of duct taping her elementary school students. The attorney said it was not an egregious offense.
“Putting duct tape over the mouths of young children is not an egregious offense?” and incredulous Klein asked. “I’m setting bond at $100,000! Take it up with the trial judge.”
Klein also went hard on a county employee, accused of embezzling a million dollars from taxpayers.
“Sir, your bond is one million dollars,” Klein declared.
Klein was so admired that Circuit Judge Leon Firtel interrupted his court Thursday and spoke of his friend and colleague from the bench.
“Judge Klein was a friend of my father’s from many years ago,” Firtel told attorneys and defendants assembled in the courtroom. “I knew him from when I was a child. He was quite a judge. Everybody loved him.”
“There are certain guys, when you’ve been doing this a long time, that are icons in the system,” Attorney Simon Steckel said. “He was a classic, classic judge.”
Klein saw some bizarre moments in bond court, including the time a woman defendant pulled off her top, bearing her bosom to the courtroom crowd and television camera. The judge just shook his head, with a wry grin.
He caught heat in 1992 for clearing two Miami police officers in the in-custody death of a suspect. The man had suffered broken ribs and a ruptured liver.
“There is not reasonable ground for believing the death of the deceased was caused by the criminal act of another,” Klein ruled. Public reaction was not favorable, but Klein was not known to let public opinion influence his.
If Judge Klein’s first love was the bench, his second love was golf. He tried to finish his court calendar early enough to get in an afternoon round of Golf at the Bayshore Club on Miami Beach.
“He certainly earned the name “Fast Gerry,” said Judge Firtel, chuckling.
If Klein worked quickly, he also worked deliberately attorneys said.
“He did a tremendous job of cutting through all the extraneous factors and dealing with the bottom line,” said attorney Harvey Watnick.
Gerald Klein had no living relatives. He is survived by his best friend: the law.