William F. Levine, a Nassau trial lawyer involved in at least two cases of national importance and a former president of the Nassau Bar Association, died Monday at his home in Sea Cliff. He was 78.
"The legal community has lost a giant," said Nassau County Administrative Judge Thomas Adams. "His extraordinary knowledge of the law and gentle demeanor maintained a sense of dignity and respect for the court and those he represented."
Levine, the son of former Nassau County District Attorney and State Supreme Court Justice Manuel Levine, started practicing law in 1961 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and the Syracuse University School of Law.
After being with several different firms, he went out on his own for about a year before partnering with Michael B. Grossman to form Levine & Grossman, the Mineola firm with which he would remain.
In 1979, his firm took on a right-to-die case for Chaminade High School in Mineola, ultimately setting the standard for people in a comatose state, who previously had stated they did not want to be kept alive artificially, to use the court to enforce their wishes.
The U.S. Supreme Court referred to the case when making its own right-to-die ruling in 1990.
The Rev. Phillip Eichner, head of Chaminade at the time and now at Kellenberg High School in Uniondale, called Levine "gracious."
"He helped us at a very critical time . . . when a member of our Marianist community was brain dead and in a vegetative state," Eichner said. "He told us it was an important issue and he'd take it to the highest courts at no charge. He won at every level, and he became a good friend of the Marianist community."
Levine's other high-profile case was the class-action lawsuit for American veterans against the makers of the toxic Agent Orange defoliant the United States used during the Vietnam War. In 1984, the case brought the then-largest tort payout in the nation's legal system -- $180 million.
"He was one of the Plaintiff Management Committee member lawyers from around the country, and, had the case gone to trial, which he thought it should have, he would have been one of the two primary trial lawyers," said Detroit lawyer Jules Olsman, who worked with Levine on the case and became his friend. "Bill was a great lawyer."
Levine is survived by his wife of 24 years, Pamela Sharpe; two daughters, Julia Sharpe-Levine and Elizabeth Sharpe-Levine, all of Sea Cliff; two sons, Steven Levine, of Boston, Paul Levine of Florida, and a brother, George Druke of California.
A service will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Gutterman's Funeral Home in Woodbury. Burial will follow at Mount Ararat Cemetery in Lindenhurst.