U.S. District Judge Louis H. Pollak dies at 89
THE PHONE was constantly ringing Wednesday in the chambers of U.S. District Senior Judge Louis H. Pollak, on the 16th floor of the U.S. Courthouse. And people kept stopping by — fellow judges, court employees, security guards — all with one mission: to express their sympathy at Judge Pollak’s death, to talk about what a great guy he was, to recount anecdotes from his remarkable life. Susan Quigley, the judge’s secretary for seven years, took the calls, greeted the well-wishers and, when she couldn’t hold it in any longer, cried tears of loss.
THE PHONE was constantly ringing Wednesday in the chambers of U.S. District Senior Judge Louis H. Pollak, on the 16th floor of the U.S. Courthouse. And people kept stopping by — fellow judges, court employees, security guards — all with one mission: to express their sympathy at Judge Pollak's death, to talk about what a great guy he was, to recount anecdotes from his remarkable life.
Susan Quigley, the judge's secretary for seven years, took the calls, greeted the well-wishers and, when she couldn't hold it in any longer, cried tears of loss.
"Every time someone said something about him, I cried," she said late in the afternoon.
Among the people she reached on her own was retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter.
"He talked for 15 minutes about Judge Pollak," Quigley said. "They were very good friends."
Louis Heilprin Pollak, a federal court judge since he was nominated by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, and a senior judge since 1991, died Tuesday of heart failure in his West Mount Airy home. He was 89.
Pollak also was a strong advocate for civil rights who worked on the Brown v. Board of Education school-desegregation case in the '50s, dean of the law schools of Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania, a dedicated hiker who liked to challenge the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and a devoted family man with five daughters.
Some of those who knew the judge recalled how he used to bring his golden retrievers to the office with him, and how one of them, Bumpo, gave birth to puppies in his chambers. Once after delivering a serious speech at Temple University, he asked if there were any questions. A man in the back stood up and asked, "Do you still bring your dogs to the office?"
"Working for him was a wonderful experience," Quigley said. "He was wonderful, phenomenal, so down-to-earth, but incredibly smart. He loved being a judge; he loved being here. He treated everybody the same. A security guard came by and said he loved being in his courtroom."
Until last Friday, Quigley and other staff members would take paperwork to the judge in his hospital room, where he would take care of details of the cases he was working on.
His death was a blow to all who knew and worked with him.
"When I heard the news he had passed away, I felt like I had been body-slammed," said Theodore McKee, chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "He was just an incredible human being."
McKee said he admired Pollak as much for his humanity as his legal acumen. "I'm talking about how he applied the law. He had a special ability to see how people were impacted by the law," McKee said. "That's the kind of guy he was. I loved the man, and I think everybody who knew him felt that way about him."
McKee quoted Mark Antony's tribute to the fallen Brutus in the Shakespeare play "Julius Caesar" to sum up Judge Pollak: "His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world: This was a man."
John E. Savoth, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, said Judge Pollak "had a tremendous influence on the quality of justice in the Eastern District. He distinguished himself in several legal careers — as a judge, a lawyer, a law-school professor and dean. But most of all, he was beloved by lawyers and judges alike for his brilliance, independence and fairness, as well as his graciousness."
Born in New York City on Dec. 7, 1922, Pollak graduated from Harvard University in 1943 and Yale Law School in 1948.
Before becoming a judge, he was particularly known for civil-rights and civil-liberties law, which became a principal focus of Pollak's teaching and scholarly interests.
He was first a volunteer lawyer and later a board member and vice president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He and longtime friend William T. Coleman Jr. were among the lawyers who assisted Thurgood Marshall and his associates at the NAACP in planning strategy and drafting the briefs in several major school-desegregation cases, culminating in the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education.
Coleman, who could not be reached for comment, later became U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the Ford administration. Marshall became the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court justice in 1967.
As a member of the faculty of Yale Law School and later dean, the family lived in New Haven, Conn., from 1955 to 1974, where he was a member of the school board. He then joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and became dean a year later.
During his time on the bench, Pollak presided over a variety of cases and issues. As a federal district judge, he was regularly asked to sit on cases of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. He also was often invited to sit with the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.
Pollak suffered a serious blow when his beautiful and talented granddaughter Sarah Dekker died of brain cancer on April 19 at age 23.
As a family man, Pollak proved that he was always available when he was needed. Like the time he went into Traffic Court to defend daughter Sally when she was fined for throwing eggs during a Mischief Night frolic with several other young people. Sally and her father thought justice needed to be done since none of the other mischief-makers was fined. He was not yet a judge, but he was dean of the Penn Law School, and he appealed the fine to Common Pleas Court and won.
"He was a really cool person," Sally said. "Some of the best times I had were hiking with him in the White Mountains."
"He had an incredible sense of humor," said daughter Libby. "He was consistently himself from the day he was born until he died."
Pollak married the former Katherine Weiss in 1952.
Shortly before his death, he sang their song: "If I Loved You," from "Carousel." The family joined in — even after the tears came.
Pollak also is survived by three other daughters, Nancy, Susie and Debby, and several grandchildren.
Services: Funeral services were pending. n
Contact Michael Hinkelman at 215-854-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MHinkelman.