‘A lawyer’s lawyer’: Lewis Stein, former Morris public defender and bar president

Lewis Stein
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Lewis Stein, former president of the Morris County Bar Association and the first public defender for Morris, Sussex and Warren counties, was remembered this week as a “lawyer’s lawyer” whose gruff exterior belied his passion for family, justice and Jewish causes.

Stein died of cancer on Monday. He was 83.

“He was not warm and fuzzy on the outside. But he was generous, generous with his family, with his friends, with his Jewish and legal communities,” said Rabbi Michael Satz, describing Stein as a “lawyer’s lawyer”  at his funeral Wednesday at Temple B’Nai Or in Morristown.

Raised by his immigrant mother and an aunt, over a bar they ran in Harrison, Stein got a scholarship to a Jewish summer camp that changed his life, Satz said.

He went on to earn undergraduate and law degrees from New York University, and later became a founding partner of Nusbaum Stein Goldstein Bronstein & Kron in Roxbury.

Son-in-law Steve Loewenthal, who joined the firm a decade ago, described Stein as a “transcendent” attorney–the best he’s ever seen–who led by example, with integrity that ran deep.

Loewenthal recounted suggesting ways to elicit a jury’s sympathy.

His father-in-law stopped him.

“We don’t need sympathy,” Stein said. “We just need to get them to understand the truth.”

Stein could be terse. He was a big Giants fan, and met his future son-in-law when his daughter Judy brought Loewenthal to a game.  Extending his hand, Stein uttered just two words to the boyfriend: “Lew Stein.”

Years later, Stein flashed his disarming humor and rare but engaging smile when Loewenthal reminded his “second father” of their frosty beginning.

“First, it was an important game,” Stein deadpanned. “And, you might not last a week with my daughter.”

Stein’s longtime law partner, Paul Nusbaum, praised his friend’s intellectual rigor, which extended to the partners’ wide-ranging lunch discussions. They took turns listening, and advocating.

“You know,” Stein observed to Nusbaum after once such luncheon, “life is all a negotiation.”

Most impressive, Nusbaum said, was Stein’s devotion to his late wife Lynn (Chopin), who was wheelchair-bound for many years.

Stein made sure they attended concerts in New York and at Tanglewood, near their summer home in the Berkshires, and in Florida, where they maintained a part-time residence in Aventura.

When Nusbaum remarked about the difficult logistics, Stein, referring to his wife, said simply: “We’re partners.”

The only time Stein ever lost his composure, said his daughter Kara, was during a visit to the Poland home from which his mother had fled. Relatives who remained there were murdered in the Holocaust.

Stein took his family to Israel several times, supported Jewish summer youth camps, and ventured to the Soviet Union in the 1970s to help refuseniks, Rabbi Seitz said.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Stein visited Croatia. He continued planning a trip to India, until his three daughters convinced him it was not a good idea, health-wise.

Stein, a workaholic, had one unshakable rule: He always took calls from his family, regardless of his caseload, Loewenthal said.

He also had a knack for injecting life lessons into everyday situations.

“My father was my moral compass,” said Kara, a public interest lawyer.

She recalled a teen episode involving alcohol and the ruination of her father’s favorite sweater.  When it was time for her to fess up, Stein broke the ice with a lawyerly discourse about tax amnesty.

“Then he explained that for five minutes, I had ‘sweater amnesty,'” Kara said.

Thirty years later, when the family homestead in Morristown was being sold, a box arrived at her home in Maryland.

It contained the sweater.

Stein is survived by daughters Kara (Eric Fingerhut) of Bethesda, MD, and twins Judy (Steven Loewenthal) and Jill (Jonathan Collins), both of Morristown.; grandchildren Zachary, Jake, Eden, Anabel and Eli; and sister Edythe Chontow of New York, NY.

Shiva is Thursday, July 18, 2019, from 7-9 pm, and on Friday from 2-5 pm at the home of Judy and Steve Loewenthal. For address, please contact Temple B’nai Or. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be given to NJY Camps and “whomever the Democratic nominee is in 2020.”

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