On this Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, photo attorney Morton Katz poses outside Superior Court in Hartford, Conn. The 99-year-old lawyer working as a special public prosecutor’s office, and says that he has no plans to retire. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)
HARTFORD, Conn. – Attorney Morton Katz, 99, remembers only one client can be assigned to him as a special public defender, that a number of his age.
The man, charged with stealing a car, while on probation, was unhappy about how long it was and to solve his case.
“He wrote me the most cruel letters,” Katz said. “The mildest one started, senile old son of a — I will not quote the language he used, but it was pretty violent.”
Katz became a lawyer in 1951, after the second world War, and continues to work on the basis of a contract with the state of Connecticut as a special public prosecutor. He has almost all of his work in person and via telephone, rather than the use of computers, but he convinces a lot of younger colleagues with his sharpness of mind and the recovery of the detail. And he has no plans to retire.
“I love what I’m doing. I would not know what to do when I’m not practicing law,” he said. “There are frustrations to beat all hell, but I love what I’m doing. It is very satisfying.”
Katz, of Avon, was born on May 15, 1919 — the straw hat day, he explained. In those days men would wear a hat from mid-May to mid-September. After that, someone would take it out of your head and put their fist through it, ” he said.
He is a graduate of Connecticut State College, the school that became the University of Connecticut, and saw action in the second world War in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany to attend the law school at UConn.
Superior Court Judge Omar Williams said Katz is asked to handle very difficult cases with difficult suspects, and is very good at what he does.
“Of course it is great that there is someone who is 99 years old and still working in this area,” Williams said. “But the market put that kind of work product, every bit a convincing advocate — it is absolutely incredible.”
A recent day, Katz was looking for a client in a burglary case. The man had appeared on similar charges a few days before in New Britain, and his lawyer in that appearance had not gotten back to Katz to tell him of the resolution. Despite the fact that on the docket, the client had not brought from the prison to the court.
“A typical Matthew 6:3 case,” Katz lamented. “The left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing.”
David Warner, the board of public defender in Hartford, said nobody he knows of has ever questioned Katz’s jurisdiction to the exercise of the right.
“He tells some amazing stories about his career, about the war,” Warner said. “I thought he was joking when he first told me his age. You would never know it from talking to him.”
If a special public prosecutor, Katz is paid $350 per case, regardless of how much work he puts in, unless the case goes to a trial, and then he gets an hourly wage. Katz also serves as a magistrate for small claims cases, free legal work in civil cases for the entire State of the Legal Services provides free legal assistance to veterans.
He devoted himself to public service after an uncle, that Katz, by college, refused his offer to pay him back.
“He said,” No, what you can do is find someone else who needs help, and you will help them,'” Katz said. “It struck me that that is the correct thing to do.”
The American Bar Association said it could not determine whether Katz is the oldest lawyer in the United States, and the National Association of Public Defenders says it also does not keep these records.
“However, having a public defender himself 31 years and involved in the public defense since that time, I know of no one remotely approaching that age who are still active as a public defender,” said Ernie Lewis, the group’s executive director.
Katz said he plans to put an end to his legal career, “if they are here for me.”
In the meantime, he attends regular seminars to keep up-to-date on the legislation and wants to take a course to give him more computer literate.
“Here is a man who served his country in ways that can never be repaid and will continue to do so,” Judge Williams said. “He is just a nice example of the best of what humanity has to offer.”
And the suspect car thief who had such cruel words for Katz? He came around a bit as soon as Katz managed to get the case thrown out.
The suspicious case was longer than expected because Katz was a forensic examination done from a phone that was found in the stolen car. That exam found messages that turned out to be two other men had stolen the car and were renting it to his client.
“I think he mumbled a thank you on the way out of the court,” Katz said with a grin, “but very low key.”