Samuel Levine, a former Nassau District Court judge who relished underdog causes, waged numerous unsuccessful political campaigns as a Democratic candidate and later challenged the county’s red light camera program, has died.
The former judge and attorney died July 26 at age 91 while hospitalized for kidney failure, according to one of his sons, Gary Levine.
Some of the former judge’s colleagues said that while he served from the bench for just three years, for decades he ran a private law practice focused on helping the elderly and people with disabilities.
Born in 1929 in Syracuse, Levine later graduated from Syracuse University and then Brooklyn Law School, his son said.
Levine and his wife, Lee, who predeceased him in 2011, moved their family to Long Island in the mid-1960s. The couple, who had three children, eventually settled in Oceanside before moving to Long Beach years later.
“There was not a second on Earth that he wasted,” Gary Levine, 56, of Island Park, also said of his father — a man he guessed could have been a millionaire many times over “if he sent bills” to his clients.
“He represented people who were the underdog,” the younger Levine said. “My father was a fierce advocate for them.”
The son said that besides the pro bono cases his father handled, he believed his father would be remembered most for challenging the county’s red light camera program.
In 2010, Levine challenged the constitutionality of the program after his wife got two $50 fines for red light violations at an intersection in Oceanside.
Then 81, Levine claimed the system provided no way for a driver to confront his or her “accuser” since it was a camera maintained by an out-of-state company. But a judge later found in favor of the county after Levine sued over the fines.
On Friday, former State Supreme Court Justice Ira Raab recalled how he and Levine had adjoining chambers after their surprise elections as District Court judges in Nassau in 1996. They ran on the same ticket as President Bill Clinton when he won reelection.
Levine had lost each of his previous five runs for a judgeship by more than 25,000 votes, but his defeat of the court’s presiding judge, a Republican, earned him that top job.
But from the time Levine was sworn in, he had no more power than other District Court judges and was transferred to outlying courts after ruffling judicial feathers as he tried to institute wholesale reforms of the Tenant-Landlord Court in Hempstead, Newsday reported in 1997.
Levine stepped down from his judgeship in 1999 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
But Raab, who then became the court’s presiding judge, said Levine left him with a souvenir that he still keeps on his desk: a bottle of St. Joseph Aspirin with a note saying it was for all his “new headaches.”
“I’ve had it in all of my chambers since then,” the former New York judge said Friday in a phone interview from Florida.
Raab said Levine had an “open heart” and strived to help people resolve their problems.
Garden City attorney Thomas Liotti said he represented Levine in personal legal battles that included his 2006 lawsuit against top judges after Levine — then a former judge — was denied a position as a judicial hearing officer.
Liotti called Levine “a courageous gentleman” who was “imbued with a sense of justice,” but someone who also was falsely portrayed in some circles because he challenged Nassau’s political status quo.
Levine “was typecast as a pariah” because he ran against “the Republican machine,” Liotti said.
But Liotti also said Levine cherished a letter ex-Nassau Republican Party chairman Joseph Mondello, now U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, sent him in 1991.
It was after Mondello defeated Levine to keep his seat as Town of Hempstead presiding supervisor.
In the letter, which Gary Levine said his father framed, Mondello wrote that in his years in politics, he had “never met a political adversary who conducted himself with such dignity and professionalism.”
The letter, according to Levine’s son, also said in part: “Throughout the campaign, you argued your policies and convictions like a gentleman and a statesman.”
In addition to his son Gary, Levine is survived by daughter Judie Altman of Dallas, Texas, and son Don Levine of Sarasota, Florida. A private graveside ceremony was held Thursday at Wellwood Cemetery.