Federal Judge Frederic Block is known for presiding over some of the most famous cases in U.S. history like the Crown Heights Riots case, the trial of mafia kingpin Peter Gotti, and most recently the 5Pointz trial. With over 23 years on the bench in Brooklyn, Judge Block has seen it all. Outside of the courtroom, however, the Judge spends much of his time sitting on another bench: the piano bench! The Judge co-wrote music and lyrics for the off-Broadway musical Professionally Speaking. In addition to writing off-Broadway musicals and legal briefs, The Judge is also an author whose first book, Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge, was a bestseller.
At 83-years old, Judge Block is still working, still presiding and showing no signs of slowing down. His second book, Race to Judgement is described as “a legal thriller inspired by his most famous cases and friendships… and also features a unique musical component.” Recently, we got to chat with the Judge and ask about some of the cases he’s presided over and the journey from writing non-fiction to writing novels and musicals.
BookTrib: One of the events of the early 90s that had a significant impact on me as a teenager was the Crown Heights Riots. That was one of the defining cases along with the Central Park Five and Yusef Hawkins murder that made it very clear to me that racism wasn’t a fixture of the 60s, but was very present in the now. Can you tell me about what it was like presiding over that case and why you chose this for the focus of your book, Race to Judgement?
Judge: I presided over the case of Lemrick Nelson, accused of killing Yankel Rosenbaum in the 1991 Crown Heights riots and I handled the civil case of Jabbar Collins, who was convicted for the murder of an Orthodox rabbi he didn’t commit. These were major cases and when I started to put this together, I thought these were good stories to events to incorporate in my book. It’s fictionalized, but I incorporated parts from my life and the cases I was presiding over. The main character is inspired by Ken Thompson ran for DA because of what happened with Jabbar Collins. At the time that I was finishing the book, I learned Ken had terminal cancer, colon cancer, and I called Doug Windor, his former law partner, his father was my eye doctor, and I told him my book was based, in part, on Ken’s life and I was dedicating it to him.
I didn’t get to see him before he died, but I saw Doug and he told me Ken said, ‘thank the Judge.’ I did get to see his widow and I gave her a copy of the book.
BookTrib: Where does music fit into all this?
Judge: I had all these country songs I had written and with the protagonist being in law school in Nashville, I just thought it was a good use of all this music I had written. At the end of ‘Race to Judgement,’ there’s a songbook with all of the songs from the book.
BookTrib: You are over 80, you could retire, but here you are still working, still presiding over cases, writing musicals, novels and you are incredibly sharp. How do you find time to accomplish all this— write— and still stay at the top of your game?
Judge: This is the same question I get asked in every interview. I would write whenever I could. I was still presiding over cases and writing music comes easy to me, so I would do that whenever I had a chance and in about eight months or so I finished writing this book. I didn’t have a schedule, but I wrote an outline and worked from that. The writing keeps me young whether it be the book or the music, it keeps me engaged and my mind active.
BookTrib: One final question: will there be another book or musical?
Judge: I am always writing music, but, yes, I started a new book. It’s going to look at terrorism. We have spent a lot of time in the last 15+ years working on terrorism and it still remains a very real threat that can result in violence in the courtroom, so this new book is going to explore that.
For more information about Judge Block and to learn more about the story behind Race to Judgement, visit his website at: https://fredericblock.com/. Hear clips from the songbook at: https://fredericblock.com/music.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judge Frederic Block received a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in 1956 and an LLB degree from Cornell Law School in 1959. He was appointed United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York on September 29, 1994, beginning his term in October of that year. He assumed senior status in 2005. During his 23 year tenure on the bench, Judge Block has presided over a number of high profile cases, including the trials of former Bear Stearns hedge fund managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, Peter Gotti and Lemrick Nelson. His new book, Race to Judgement is based on another case he presided over where a young man, Jabbar Collins was tried and convicted of a murder he didn’t commit.
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