Gerald Klein, a long-serving Miami-Dade county judge known for his courtroom efficiency and his love of golf, died Sunday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 90.
Known around the courthouse as “Fast Jerry,” Klein served as a judge overseeing misdemeanor criminal cases from 1959 to 1990. After that, Klein became a part-time senior judge, presiding over bond hearings until 2007.
“Judge Klein brought dignity to a system that often runs roughshod over the ‘regular people’ who are churned through the system at bond hearings and in misdemeanor cases,” said Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Edith Georgi, who like many veteran lawyers began her career handling less-serious crimes in front of the judge.
“He was highly skilled and efficient, but he was always willing to listen. He erred on the side of fairness, always.”
Born in New York City, Klein moved to Miami Beach in the early 1940s. He graduated from the University of Florida’s law school and was sworn in as an attorney in June 1948.
As a county court judge, most of Klein’s cases were lower-level: prostitution, drug possession, simple batteries and — back then — pornography cases. But that didn’t mean his court was devoid of Miami’s colorful characters.
In 1982, he presided over the acquittal of two security guards who allegedly tried to prevent two police detectives from searching the plush Golden Beach home of Saudi Arabian sheik.
The same year, he fined Lebanon Hospital $500 for illegally disposing of hazardous waste and materials.
Three years later, he acquitted a man who tried to kick the doors down at Miami City Hall to get on the ballot for mayor.
Klein also presided over “inquests,” a now-defunct hearing system in which judges reviewed cases of police officer-involved shootings. More recently, Klein was most known for briskly presiding over first appearances, an unglamorous but important job in the criminal justice system — and a role that he relished.
Even after Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the Miami Beach resident drove to Miami to hold bond hearings for a week, even as most of the court was closed and his own high-rise condo was powerless.
“Jerry was probably the most proficient bond hearing judges I ever met,” said Assistant Public Defender Herbert Smith.
Klein was also known for his love of golf — and squeezing in rounds during the workweek.
Courthouse regulars recall with a chuckle when, in 1988, Klein was robbed at gunpoint in the men’s locker room of the Bayshore Golf Course, known today at the Miami Beach Golf Club. A reporter asked him why he was golfing on a Monday at 1:30 p.m.
“I figured somebody would ask that,’’ he said. “I had jury trials that day, and they all washed out” — meaning they finished in pleas, postponements or lack of prosecution — “so I get out of here once in a while.”
After his retirement, a healthy Klein — who had no children and no wife — continued golfing, hanging out with friends and shopping until he fell ill. He has no surviving relatives.
“He lived his life to the fullest,” said his best friend, former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Howard Gross.
Services were held.