Monday, June 25, 2012


DONTZIN--Michael Joseph. Retired Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, died peacefully at his home in New York City on June 22, 2012 after a long battle with cancer. Judge Dontzin was 89 years old. Judge Dontzin was born in New York City to immigrant Russian parents, Joseph and Miriam, and attended Stuyvesant High School. During the Korean War, he served as a corpsman in the US Navy. He went on to attend Washington State University in Pullman, then transferred to New York University where he received a B.A in 1948 and a J.D. in 1951. Working as a trial lawyer in private practice, Judge Dontzin became an activist in the Liberal Party, where he was a protege to leaders Alex Rose and David Dubinsky. His activity in politics reflected his passion for social justice, and for the vibrancy and well-being of the city he loved. He practiced law until 1966 when he was appointed as Counsel to Mayor John Lindsay, where he was the Mayor's liaison to the Police Department and the Court System, and led the Mayor's Screening Committee on the Judiciary. Appointed by Mayor Lindsay as Judge of the Criminal Court of the City of New York in 1972, he was elected as a Justice of the Supreme Court, New York County in 1976 and re-elected to successive terms until his retirement from the bench in 1992. Judge Dontzin became the Chief Judicial Officer of the alternative dispute resolution firm Endispute in 1992, which later became JAMS. He resolved thousands of commercial, employment, insurance, mass tort, and other cases as mediator or arbitrator, and became a leading proponent of ADR. At the same time, he founded The Dontzin Law Firm with his son Matthew S. Dontzin and practiced law actively until his death. In the last days of his life, he presided over the marriage of a gay couple in his home, keeping a promise to a friend. The law was his great passion and he will be remembered as a skillful and accomplished jurist. He is survived by his devoted wife of 35 years, Janet Sarno, an actress; daughter Lisa; son Matthew; daughter-in-law Ginger; and grandchildren Maegan Mishico and Cole Dontzin. When not practicing law, Judge Dontzin's other great passion was to serve as his wife's "Stage Door Johnny" accompanying her to each of her theater performances. Judge Dontzin was predeceased in 1990 by his former wife Marion Bell Seldin, who remained a close friend after their divorce. The family will receive guests on June 25 and 26 from 6pm to 9pm at the home of Matthew S. Dontzin, 6 East 81st Street, NYC. A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Edward N. Costikyan

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Private funeral in South Carolina. Paul, Weiss to arrange a memorial service in the future.


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