Mark Jay Epstein, a prominent Melville attorney who was active in politics, the Long Island Rail Road and several community organizations, died of a heart attack Thursday. He was 55.
Epstein, a tenacious and thoughtful personal injury attorney, devoted himself to others, friends and family said. He was chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council, a commissioner of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission and chairman of the Suffolk County Jewish Advisory Board, among other accomplishments.
“He put everybody before himself,” law partner Michael Jaffe said. “It was always for people, and people’s rights and people’s ability to thrive and have a good life.”
Epstein, born July 3, 1964, to parents David and Terri, grew up in Roslyn Heights, ex-wife Lynn Epstein said. He graduated from American University, where “he was influenced in politics and how people can make a difference in the world,” she said.
Epstein graduated from New York Law School in 1989. He was admitted to the bar in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., according to his law firm biography.
Epstein worked as a defense attorney in insurance law and as a police union attorney before joining Pazer, Epstein, Jaffe & Fein, his bio said. He was named one of New York’s Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers Association, among other recognitions, according to his bio.
He earned a spot in the New York Law Journal’s Hall of Fame for Highest Premises/Verdicts after winning a $5 million settlement for a client, his bio said. He also was on the board of directors of the National Trial Lawyers Association and a member of several bar associations and lawyer groups.
Epstein often was able to give clarity to complex issues and show other attorneys their blind spots, Jaffe said. He also was "honest as the day is long."
Epstein became active in politics decades ago, raised campaign funds for Democratic candidates and attended the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention, Jaffe said.
“He knew everybody,” he said. “If you saw the pictures of his office in downtown Manhattan, every corner of every wall has a picture of him in politics on it,” including photos with former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Epstein rode the LIRR into work regularly and became chairman of the commuter council in 2011. He “focused on issues that riders cared about deeply,” including on-time performance and more waiting room hours, said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.
“Mark was a fierce and tireless advocate on behalf of LIRR commuters,” LIRR president Phillip Eng said. “He was dedicated to creating a better LIRR and he challenged the LIRR’s leadership to strive for excellence on the system that he loved and rode on every day. His passion for the region was unparalleled.”
Epstein joined the Suffolk Human Rights Commission in 2008. Other members were “always impressed by the thoughtfulness that Mark brought to all our discussions,” said Rabbi Steven Moss, former chairman of the commission.
“He didn’t speak a lot,” Moss said. “That is because he wanted to make sure that when he did speak, he said something significant, which he always did.”
Epstein, who also was part of several Jewish groups, "brought the Jewish sense of justice and ethical behavior and concern for the fixing of the inequalities of our society" to the commission, Moss said.
Lynn Epstein, of Melville, said her former husband of 15 years “was always really amazing at knowing how to speak to people about what was important to them.” He also was a hard worker who loved to tell jokes and take his two sons, Noah, 19, and Aaron, 15, to sporting events and movies, she said.
Epstein also is survived by his mother, of Melville; his father, of Florida; his stepmother, Brenda Epstein; and sister Elisa Indek, of Plainview.
Epstein will have a virtual funeral Monday at 1 p.m. and a small graveside burial at a local cemetery, Lynn Epstein said.
With Alfonso A. Castillo