Published July 2013
I was born and reared in Houma, Louisiana, a relatively small community south of New Orleans. After graduating from law school, I returned home to begin my odyssey as a lawyer. Like many graduates of that period, I was well attuned to the Socratic method but knew very little about practicing law.
Leonard Greenburg was a friend of my family and was an esteemed lawyer in our area. When I was in law school, he was elected as District Attorney and shortly after I began practicing law, he was elected as a District Judge. This short essay pays tribute to him—a splendid jurist and an even more splendid human being.
Judge Greenburg was born in New York, shortly after his father and mother had immigrated from Russia, where his father was a rabbi. His family eventually moved to Florida. The judge received his A.B. from Tulane University where he graduated as a Phi Beta Kappa. He continued at Tulane studying law (and teaching French at Tulane at the same time) and obtained his LL.B. Judge Greenburg married Alice Daspit, who was from Houma, Louisiana, where he established his law practice.
I have often reflected how fortunate I was to get to know a man like Leonard Greenburg growing up in a small community in South Louisiana. He was the most erudite man I have ever known. He spoke eleven languages and was a marvelous raconteur. As a chef, he not only replicated the menus of New Orleans finest restaurants but often surpassed them in his culinary adventures. Indeed, I learned from my father that Judge Greenburg was a Special Agent during the war and had served in North Africa.
Houma was and is a close-knit community. In such a setting, all the lawyers knew and still know all the judges and generally have some personal relationship with them. Thus, seldom was there a recusal based on friendship, and the rule of necessity prevailed. As a result, I had the honor and privilege of trying cases before Judge Greenburg many times. This process gave me a judicial template that would serve me well many years later when I became a judge.
In addition to his prodigious intellect and unusual life experiences, he was uniquely wise. While his life experiences shaped his temperament and wisdom, it is my firm belief that those characteristics were primarily innate. For some ineffable reason, even the most obstreperous of lawyers was decorous in his courtroom. Never a martinet, his subtle wit and kind demeanor pervaded his dealings with all lawyers, at least during the time we spent in his courtroom.
Hyperbole is difficult to avoid when describing Judge Greenburg. I have never seen a finer judicial temperament. He was invariably even handed, even tempered and extremely well prepared; moreover, his all important rectitude was beyond question. Nonetheless, he was never self righteous or pompous.
For me to express the full sense of him is beyond my capabilities, in a short paper or even a longer one. Suffice it to say, there were not many Jewish people in Houma, Louisiana, and none who learned “Cajun French” in a week and spoke it to the locals like he was one of them. I always envied his linguistic gift.
During the first case I tried before Judge Greenburg, he brought me aside and advised me that although it might not be totally fair, my burden was not a preponderance of the evidence, but something a bit more. He said because of his affinity for my family, I had a slightly more difficult burden than my counterparts. Initially, I was disturbed by this, but it certainly helped me to be extraordinarily prepared in his court. I knew he would ultimately always be fair whomever the attorneys or whatever the case. In the final analysis, when he rendered a decision which was unfavorable to my client, upon reflection I invariably realized it was not as a result of my onerous burden of proof — it was the correct decision.
Judge Greenburg was never pedantic or didactic, either in the courtroom or in conversation with friends. He was invariably entertaining, interesting, vivid, and a delight to be around. The memory one leaves is one’s legacy. Judge Greenburg has left an extraordinarily rich one for those of us who had the privilege of knowing him and practicing law in his court. I will never reach the high bar he set as a judge, but I will always try, having experienced that high bar he set.