Judge Stanley Brotman, 89, dies

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ST. CROIX - A recently retired federal judge who helped shape local jurisprudence during more than 30 years as a visiting judge in the Virgin Islands died Friday in New Jersey.

Judge Stanley Brotman had wanted to be remembered in the territory as someone who helped put a lot more faith in the judicial system, he told The Daily News in an interview after he retired in September.

According to his obituary, Brotman, 89, died Friday at a hospital in Stratford, N.J.

He was the longest-serving federal judge in New Jersey, according to his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A press release from the U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands on Monday noted that Brotman was a "legal fixture" in the territory for decades.

"Judge Brotman was a giant among men, who walked humbly amidst his Virgin Islands District Court family," Judge Wilma Lewis, chief judge of the District Court of the Virgin Islands, said in a prepared statement. "We will remember him fondly for his calm demeanor, genuine interest in the lives of the court personnel and his unwavering love for the Virgin Islands.

"Judge Brotman will be missed, but the legacy he leaves on the District Court of the Virgin Islands and our territory will exist in perpetuity," she said.

Brotman was appointed a federal judge for the District of New Jersey by President Gerald Ford in 1975 and began sitting by designation in the Virgin Islands in 1979.

Brotman was actually on St. Croix and rode out Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Although he was evacuated a few days later, he turned around and came back to St. Croix within days to help rebuild the judicial system.

He was acting chief judge of the District Court of the Virgin Islands from 1989 to 1992, according to the statement from U.S. District Court.

"During that time, he shepherded the court through the onslaught of Hurricane Hugo, rebuilding the courthouses and continuing his commitment to improve the judicial system of the Virgin Islands," the District Court release said.

U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez said Monday that Brotman "loved the work here, was committed to the work here and loved the people here."

Brotman was involved in significant cases, left his mark on jurisprudence in the territory and was also "a very good friend, always willing to give of his time," Gomez said.

"On the one hand, you had this great jurist, but you also had this very remarkable person who was very much in touch with the human experience," Gomez said. "I think we've really lost a great public servant who had a very full life."

After joining the Army during World War II, Brotman had worked for the Office of Strategic Services - a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency - and later, during the Korean War, he had worked for the Armed Forces Security Agency - a precursor to the National Security Agency.

Much later in his career, in 1997, Brotman was appointed to a seven-year term on the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a tenure that included the time surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Last fall, Brotman told The Daily News that serving on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was a great honor for him.

"It was one of the greatest experiences in my life, in my career, to be chosen by the chief justice of the United States to serve on this court," he said.

In the territory, Brotman heard a wide range of interesting cases, including the Tutu Wells case on St. Thomas, and a series of cases on St. John having to do with real estate rights and property.

He also presided for 19 years over the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the territory for unconstitutional conditions in the jails on St. Thomas. Before Brotman retired, the parties in that suit reached a new settlement agreement designed to bring conditions at the jails up to constitutional standards.

Brotman said last fall that he believes the jails are on a pathway to improvement.

On Monday, Gomez said he will miss Brotman.

"We spoke about everything. We just had long discussions about the law and life," Gomez said. "He was passionate about both and willing to share."

The District Court statement notes that the Virgin Islands and its people "held a very special place in his heart. As recounted in his obituary, Judge Brotman's tenure in the Virgin Islands 'led to a very close, deep mutual respect and bond with the Virgin Islands and its people.' "

In the interview last fall, Brotman said he did his best for the people of the territory.

"I just feel that I tried to conduct myself as a Virgin Islander would have conducted themselves in the circumstances in which I was placed," he said. "I really have great faith in the people of the Virgin Islands. We've come a long way from the beginning. I think they accepted me, and I think I responded in a way that was not only good for the Virgin Islands, but was also good in the respect that I was able to do a lot of things that were not done before."

A funeral service is scheduled for today in Vineland, N.J., where Brotman was born.

Survivors include his wife, Suzanne; his son, Richard; and his daughter, Alison.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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