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Hartford - U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz, a prominent New Haven appellate lawyer who ascended to the federal bench in 2003 and oversaw a variety of high-profile cases in Connecticut, has died after battling Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 62.
Kravitz died Sunday night at his home in Guilford, where he continued to work on cases over the past month as the disease progressed rapidly, fellow federal Judge Alvin Thompson said Tuesday.
"Judge Kravitz was a wonderful colleague and a very dedicated and able jurist," Thompson said. "He loved the work of judging. I think it was his intellect, his temperament and the fact that he enjoyed every aspect of the work."
Born in Philadelphia, Kravitz graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown and the Georgetown University Law Center. He served as a law clerk for then-Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, who later became chief justice, before beginning a 27-year career at the Wiggin & Dana law firm in New Haven.
As an appellate lawyer, Kravitz argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and other appellate courts across the country.
In a 1984 case Kravitz argued in Hartford before federal Judge Jose Cabranes, Hammond et al. v. U.S., 584 F. Supp. 163 (D. Conn 1984), resulted in a verdict in favor of The Day. The government, on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service, claimed that the newspaper could not legally benefit from the income of The Day Trust when the trust consisted simply of the stock of the newspaper.
Kravitz successfully argued that the late publisher Theodore Bodenwein set up the trust to protect the newspaper from predatory purchasers, care for his family during their lifetimes and return some of the profits to the region. The judge ruled that it was clear Bodenwein's main intent was to protect the newspaper so it could fulfill its purpose of serving the community.
Shortly after being nominated to the federal bench by Republican President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2003, Kravitz won an award from the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. The council honored Kravitz, who had represented news organizations in several cases, for arguing for free speech and freedom of information, often without pay.
Kravitz oversaw a diverse mix of criminal and civil cases at the New Haven federal courthouse. He also helped review and change federal court rules for most of the past decade. In 2007, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appointed Kravitz as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules.
This year, he sentenced philanthropist Anne Bass' butler to 20 years in prison in August for trying to extort money from her. In April, he ruled that New Haven officials could remove Occupy New Haven protesters from the city Green, in a case involving property rights versus free speech rights.
In a free speech case that made national news in 2009, Kravitz ruled that Burlington school officials acted within their rights when they disciplined student Avery Doninger for an Internet posting she wrote off school grounds.
"Off-campus speech can become on-campus speech with the click of a mouse," Kravitz wrote.
Hartford lawyer Jon Schoenhorn represented Doninger.
"I thought he was very, very smart. He was very engaging," Schoenhorn said. "He was what I would term a conservative legal mind. He embodied the traits that the Bush administration was looking for in conservative jurists. But he also had compassion."
Kravitz also issued rulings in 2006 and 2008 in Connecticut's challenge to the federal No Child Left Behind education law, rejecting the state's claims that it was unconstitutional.
Kravitz was the second federal judge in Connecticut to die this year. Judge Peter Dorsey died in January. With Dorsey's death, Kravitz's illness and another judge's promotion, Thompson enlisted help from out-of-state colleagues last month to help clear a backlog of civil cases created by a shortage of judges.
This story includes reporting by The Day.