On his way up the ladder from practicing attorney to federal judge, Frederic Block, LL.B. ’59, started pursuing a sideline as a writer. After handling a lawsuit for a community theatre in Port Jefferson, New York, he wrote a revue of his own that satirized the lives of lawyers, doctors, and teachers. Then, with a taste of off-Broadway success, he branched into country music, writing a dozen songs that came close to being recorded in Nashville. Now, having assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, he’s completed Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge, published this summer by Thomson Reuters Westlaw.
“Disrobed is my attempt to demystify what judges do,” says Block. “Great books have been written about the law, but the public doesn’t read them, so there’s a schism between what we do and what the public knows about what we do. Over my years on the bench, it welled up in me that there was a need to communicate to readers in a user-friendly way. This book is the way I’m trying to educate and entertain at the same time.”
The book traces Block’s path to federal court, beginning with his childhood in Brooklyn, his undergraduate career at Indiana University, and his years as a student at Cornell Law. On his first day at Cornell, he blurted out the wrong answer to a question by Dean Gray Thoron, who responded that Block would undoubtedly flunk out of school after his first exam. Instead, Block buckled down on schoolwork, limiting himself to two beers a week, never missing a class, and earning the respect of his favorite professors, including Thoron.
Block followed law school with a clerkship on the New York State Supreme Court, thirty-two years as an attorney in Centereach, Patchogue, Port Jefferson, and Smithtown, and eighteen years on the U.S. District Court, where he presided over the trials of mobster Peter Gotti, drug kingpin Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, and Bear Stearns hedge fund managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin. The book recounts all of his high-profile cases in chapters titled “Death,” “Racketeering,” “Guns,” “Drugs,” “Discrimination,” “Race Riots,” “Terrorism,” and “Foreign Affairs.” So far, the response has been very favorable. President Bill Clinton, who nominated Block for the judiciary, called it “a compelling introduction to the life of a federal judge,” and Judge Judy Sheindlin described the memoir as “a must read for any court buff.”
“What book have you ever read that has both Judge Judy and the president of the United States on the cover?” asks Block. “I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s not just another book, because I know you won’t find anything else like it. So let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish.”