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Robert Morgenthau

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Robert Morgenthau
Robert Morgenthau at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.jpg
35th District Attorney of New York County
In office
January 1, 1975 – December 31, 2009
Preceded byRichard Kuh
Succeeded byCyrus Vance Jr.
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
In office
December 4, 1962 – January 15, 1970
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Preceded byVincent L. Broderick (acting)
Succeeded byWhitney North Seymour Jr.
In office
April 18, 1961 – September 4, 1962
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Preceded bySamuel Hazard Gillespie Jr.
Succeeded byVincent L. Broderick (acting)
Personal details
Robert Morris Morgenthau

(1919-07-31)July 31, 1919
New York City, U.S.
DiedJuly 21, 2019(2019-07-21) (aged 99)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Martha Pattridge
(m. 1943; died 1972)

(m. 1977)
RelativesHenry Morgenthau Jr. (father)
Elinor Fatman (mother)
Henry Morgenthau Sr. (grandfather)
EducationAmherst College (BA)
Yale University (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1940–1945
U.S. Navy O-4 infobox.svg
Lieutenant Commander
Battles/warsWorld War II

Robert Morris Morgenthau (/ˈmɔːrɡənθɔː/ MORG-ən-thaw; July 31, 1919 – July 21, 2019) was an American lawyer.[1] From 1975 until his retirement in 2009, he was the District Attorney for New York County (the borough of Manhattan), having previously served as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York throughout much of the 1960s on the appointment of John F. Kennedy. At retirement, Morgenthau was the longest-serving district attorney in the history of the State of New York.

Early life

Morgenthau was born in 1919 in New York City into a prominent Ashkenazi Jewish family that had emigrated from Baden in 1866. He was the son of Elinor (née Fatman) and Henry Morgenthau Jr., who served as the Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman from 1934 until 1945. His maternal great-grandfather was Mayer Lehman, a co-founder of Lehman Brothers. His grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., was United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Before going into diplomatic service, Henry Morgenthau Sr. had made a fortune in real estate, and became a strong financial backer of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. Morgenthau's paternal grandmother was born in Montgomery, Alabama.[2]

From the boy's earliest days, the Morgenthau family was well-connected politically. The family home was near Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Springwood Estate at Hyde Park, New York, and he grew up knowing Roosevelt.[3]

After graduating from the New Lincoln School, Deerfield Academy, and Amherst College, Morgenthau commissioned in the United States Navy, serving for four and a half years during World War II. He attained the rank of lieutenant commander, and served as the executive officer of both the USS Lansdale and the USS Harry F. Bauer. Naval records indicate heroic action during the Battle of Iwo Jima — the Bauer was attacked by thirteen kamikazes, and survived a torpedo and dive bomber attack (both failed to detonate).[4] He saw action in both the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters, mostly aboard destroyers.[5]

After the war, Morgenthau studied law, graduating from Yale Law School in 1948.[3] He joined the New York law firm of Patterson, Belknap & Webb, becoming a partner in 1954.[3]


U.S. Attorney

Morgenthau with President John F. Kennedy in 1962
Morgenthau with President John F. Kennedy in 1962

In 1961, after twelve years of practicing corporate law, Morgenthau accepted an appointment from President John F. Kennedy as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.[3] In 1962, he was the Democratic nominee for Governor of New York, and resigned his federal office.[3] After his defeat by the incumbent Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Morgenthau was reappointed U.S. Attorney and served in that position for the remainder of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.[6]

In January 1969, following the election of President Richard Nixon, Morgenthau remained in office, and for months resisted increasingly public pressures from the Nixon Administration to resign.[3] He retained support from New York's liberal Republican U.S. Senators Jacob K. Javits and Charles Goodell. Morgenthau and his supporters claimed that replacing him would disrupt his work on vital cases,[citation needed] and that Nixon might be seeking to prevent Morgenthau from pursuing investigations that would prove embarrassing to the President or his friends. Nonetheless, Morgenthau's position became increasingly untenable. While well-regarded, he was after all a Democrat, thought to harbor political aspirations. Morgenthau's insistence on remaining in office seemed increasingly unreasonable. He was eventually forced out of office at the end of 1969.[7] Republican Whitney North Seymour Jr. was appointed as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Return to politics

Afterward, Morgenthau served briefly in the reformist administration of Mayor John V. Lindsay as a deputy mayor, before resigning to seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 1970. Morgenthau was less successful in raising funds and developing support than were two other candidates, Arthur Goldberg and Howard Samuels, and within weeks, he withdrew from the race. Goldberg won the nomination, and was subsequently defeated by Rockefeller.[8]

District Attorney of New York County

Morgenthau as the New York County District Attorney in 1985
Morgenthau as the New York County District Attorney in 1985

Morgenthau remained in private life until 1974, when he was elected to the office of District Attorney of New York County. This was a special election caused by the death of Frank Hogan, who had served as DA for more than 30 years. Morgenthau defeated Hogan's interim successor, Richard Kuh.[3] He was elected to a full term in 1977, and was re-elected seven times. He was not opposed in a general election from 1985 to 2005.[9]

Morgenthau was criticized in the press for his conduct in the wake of a major police corruption scandal.[10] Eight men who were falsely arrested by New York City Transit Police officers in the scandal that shook the department were awarded more than $1 million in damages by a federal judge. One plaintiff, Ronald Yeadon, was a police officer. He was arrested twice while off duty and accused of sexually abusing a woman.[11]

Morgenthau retained a national profile while serving in what was technically a local office, in part because of his dogged pursuit of white-collar crime. According to Gary Naftalis, a prominent Manhattan defense attorney who had been an assistant to Morgenthau in the 1960s, Morgenthau believed that prosecuting "crime in the suites" was every bit as important as prosecuting "crime in the streets".[12]

At age 85 in 2005, Morgenthau announced that he would run for a ninth (eighth full) term as district attorney. For the first time in decades, he encountered a vigorous primary opponent – former state court judge Leslie Crocker Snyder.[13][14] Snyder won the endorsement of The New York Times, which, like virtually all of the city's establishment, had long supported Morgenthau.[15]

Morgenthau won the Democratic primary with 59% of the vote, to Snyder's 41%.[3] In the general election, he was once again the candidate for all political parties in the election, having been nominated by the Democrats, Republicans, and the Working Families Party.[16] Morgenthau won re-election with more than 99% of the vote.[3]


On February 27, 2009, Morgenthau announced that he would not seek re-election in 2009, saying: "I never expected to be here this long ... [R]ecently, I figured that I'd served 25 years beyond the normal retirement age."[17][18] He was succeeded in office by Cyrus Vance Jr., a prosecutor under Morgenthau and the son of former President Jimmy Carter's secretary of state Cyrus Vance. Morgenthau officially endorsed Vance on June 25.[19] Vance went on to win the primary election on September 15, 2009[20] and the subsequent general election on November 3.[21] On January 20, 2010, Morgenthau joined the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.[22][23]

Selected cases

Cases which Morgenthau's office prosecuted include:[24]

  • Mark David Chapman (1981): Chapman pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the killing of John Lennon and was sentenced to 20-years-to-life in prison. He has been denied parole multiple times and will likely never get out of jail.[25]
  • Bernhard Goetz, the "Subway Vigilante" (1987): Charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment and several gun law violations after he shot four black teenagers who he felt were trying to rob him in 1984.[26]
  • Robert Chambers, the "Preppie Killer" (1988): Chambers pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the killing of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin while the jury had the case and served 15 years in prison.[27]
  • Central Park Jogger case (1989): Five teenaged suspects were wrongly convicted of assaulting and raping 28-year-old Trisha Meili in a "wilding" incident in the north section of Central Park. After Morgenthau's office investigated the confession in 2002 by another man, including finding that his DNA matched evidence at the scene, he recommended vacating the convictions of the five men and dismissal of charges, which the court accomplished.[28]
  • Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz (2005): The top two executives of Tyco were found guilty of stealing more than $150 million from the company they had been entrusted to manage.[29]
  • Tupac Shakur (1994), he was convicted in New York City of three charges of sexual molestation, and served nine months in prison.

Selected assistant district attorneys under Morgenthau

Television character

The character of District Attorney Adam Schiff (played by actor Steven Hill), the New York district attorney in the long-running TV series Law & Order, was loosely based on Morgenthau. Morgenthau reportedly was a fan of the character.[5][35]


Morgenthau's other principal civic activities were the Police Athletic League of New York City, which he served since 1962, first as president and then chairman,[36] and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, of which he was chairman.[37]


In 2005, Morgenthau received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York".[38] Morgenthau also received the Association Medal of the New York City Bar Association for exceptional contributions to the honor and standing of the bar in the city of New York.[39]

In 2016 he received the Leo Baeck Medal.[40]

Personal life

His first wife was Martha Pattridge, a Christian, whom he met in college;[41][42] they had five children: Joan Morgenthau Wadsworth, Anne Pattridge Morgenthau Grand, Robert Pattridge Morgenthau, Elinor Gates Morgenthau, and Barbara Elizabeth Morgenthau Lee.[43][44][45][46][47] They raised their children in the Jewish faith.[48] Martha died in 1972.[43] Morgenthau was devastated by her death, and for a while afterward, he refused to talk about her in order to avoid memories of her death.[49]

In 1977, he married Lucinda Franks, an author who in 1971 won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. She was also Christian.[50][51] They had two children: Joshua Franks Morgenthau (born 1984), and Amy Elinor Morgenthau (born 1990).[44][50] They lived in New York City. They remained married until his death and Franks survived him until she passed away on May 5, 2021. His son Joshua runs the family farm, Fishkill Farms, founded by Henry Morgenthau Jr.[52]


Morgenthau died at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan on July 21, 2019 after a short illness. He was ten days shy of his 100th birthday.[3]


  1. ^ "Robert Morgenthau obituary". August 28, 2019 – via
  2. ^ Morgenthau testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee, July 16, 2009
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j McFadden, Robert. "Robert Morgenthau, Longtime Manhattan District Attorney, Dies at 99". The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  4. ^ "Harry F. Bauer (DM-26)". public2.nhhcaws.local.
  5. ^ a b Robert Morgenthau from the Jewish Virtual Library
  6. ^ Aborn For Manhattan DA or Morgenthau Forever?, NYPD Confidential (December 1, 2008).
  7. ^ Perez-Pena, Richard (December 3, 1992). "U.S. Attorney Leaving Post In Manhattan". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  8. ^ David L. Stebenne, Arthur J. Goldberg, New Deal Liberal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 375–378. ISBN 0-19-507105-0.
  9. ^ "MSN | Outlook, Office, Skype, Bing, Breaking News, and Latest Videos".
  10. ^ Levine, Richard (November 25, 1987). "Koch Pledges Inquiry on Arrests by Transit Police". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Emery, Richard (December 12, 1987). "The Even Sadder New York Police Saga". The New York Times.
  12. ^ McCoy, Kevin (June 23, 2002). "Feared D.A. relishes taking down hotshots". USA Today. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  13. ^ Gray, Geoffrey (November 4, 2005). "Robert Morgenthau Gets Witchy About Leslie Crocker Snyder". New York. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  14. ^ Eaton, Leslie (September 9, 2005). "Snyder Faults Morgenthau on Drug Laws". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  15. ^ "When to End an Era". Editorial. The New York Times. August 30, 2005. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 2, 2007. Retrieved January 15, 2022.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ Karen Freifeld, Morgenthau, Manhattan Prosecutor Since 1961, Won't Run Again, Bloomberg (February 29, 2008).
  18. ^ "Long Island's & NYC's News Source - Newsday". Newsday. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  19. ^ Elingon, John (June 25, 2009). "Manhattan District Attorney Endorses a Candidate to Succeed Him". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2009.
  20. ^ Lisi, Clemente (September 15, 2009). "Cy Vance wins Manhattan DA race". New York Post.
  21. ^ "Statement and Return Report for Certification General Election 2009 – 11/03/2009 New York County – All Parties and Independent Bodies – District Attorney – New York" (PDF). Board Elections in the City of New York. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 27, 2010. Retrieved January 15, 2022.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ Jones, Ashby (January 20, 2010). "Morgenthau, 90, Lands at Hard-Charging Wachtell Lipton". The Wall Street Journal.
  24. ^ Press, Associated (July 22, 2019). "Legendary Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau dies aged 99". The Guardian. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  25. ^ Kenneth Lovett, Mark David Chapman tells his version of John Lennon slay, New York Daily News (August 19, 2008).
  26. ^ Onishi, Norimitsu (December 31, 1995). "Court Case Nudges Goetz Out of Cocoon;Subway Gunman Back in Spotlight". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  27. ^ Jose Martinez, Preppie killer Robert Chambers pleads guilty to selling cocaine, assaulting cop, New York Daily News (August 11, 2008).
  28. ^ Prosecutor: Drop all convictions in Central Park jogger case, CNN (December 10, 2002).
  29. ^ Joel Roberts, Tyco Execs Found Guilty: Kozlowski, Swartz Convicted For Looting Company Of $600 Million, CBS News (June 17, 2005).
  30. ^ Chu, Kathy (April 24, 2007). "Cuomo makes a name for himself in replacing Spitzer". USA Today. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  31. ^ "Obama names Varney as to antitrust role at Justice". Reuters. January 22, 2009.
  32. ^ Daniel Gross, Eliot Spitzer: How New York's attorney general became the most powerful man on Wall Street., Slate (October 21, 2004).
  33. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q. (July 19, 1999). "John F. Kennedy Jr., Heir To a Formidable Dynasty". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  34. ^ Bouton, Katherine (February 25, 1990). "Linda Fairstein vs. Rape". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  35. ^ "Happy 85th Birthday, Bob Morgenthau". New York. July 26, 2004. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  36. ^ "Police Athletic League of New York City – Board of Directors". Police Athletic League of New York City. Police Athletic League of New York City. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  37. ^ "Museum of Jewish Heritage – Leadership". Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  38. ^ "Richard A. Cook Gold Medal Award". The Hundred Year Association of New York. The Hundred Year Association. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  39. ^ "The Association Medal". New York City Bar Association. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  40. ^ [1]
  41. ^ Poughkeepsie Journal: "ICYMI: Robert Morgenthau: NYC legal legend, East Fishkill farmer" by Nina Schutzman September 2, 2014.
  42. ^ "Mrs. Morgenthau Enjoying First Political Campaign". The Ithaca Journal. October 20, 1962.
  43. ^ a b "Mrs. Martha Morgenthau Dies; Wife of Former U.S. Attorney". The New York Times. October 6, 1972. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  44. ^ a b Morgenthau Family Tree Archived 2015-12-20 at the Wayback Machine retrieved October 3, 2015.
  45. ^ "Weddings; Barbara Morgenthau, Hanmin Lee". The New York Times. July 29, 2001. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  46. ^ "Susan Bryce Moore Becomes the Bride Of R.P. Morgenthau in West Virginia". The New York Times. June 26, 1983. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  47. ^ "Paul Grand to Marry Anne P. Morgenthau". The New York Times. July 26, 1970. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  48. ^ Advance News: "Mrs. Morgenthau Grants Interview in Her Charming Home in Riverdale, N.Y."  October 7, 1962.
  49. ^ Franks, Lucinda (August 19, 2014). Timeless: Love, Morgenthau, and Me. Macmillan. ISBN 9780374280802.
  50. ^ a b Poughkeepsie Journal: "Love, respect bind polar political ties for Morgenthau, Franks" by Karen Maserjian Shan August 15, 2015 | "(Lucinda) said, 'I'm a Christian, you're a Christian. We all bear responsibility for the Holocaust, for not doing more".
  51. ^ Teicher, Morton I. (October 25, 2007). "Pulitzer Prize winner's memoir tells of hidden family past". St. Louis Jewish Light.
  52. ^ "Josh Morgenthau takes over family pastime". The Poughkeepsie Journal. Retrieved October 14, 2015.

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Morton S. Robson
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Preceded by New York County District Attorney
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of New York
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Preceded by Liberal nominee for Governor of New York
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