When the national press corps pointed their cameras and microphones at Murray Greenberg, he was ready.
As first assistant county attorney for Miami-Dade County during the 2000 election recount and Bush v. Gore lawsuit, he represented the canvassing board through the chaos of the “Brooks Brothers Riot” and the sleepless nights leading up to the ruling of the Supreme Court that decided the U.S. presidency.
Greenberg’s blunt speech and “unflappable integrity and honesty” endeared him to his colleagues, his opponents in court and the community he represented. He died Saturday at age 73, after a 33-year career in the Miami-Dade County attorney’s office.
Greenberg eventually became County Attorney. He represented the county in high-profile cases like the recount, the dividing of the county into commission districts and an entanglement with the federal government over the Voting Rights Act over the county’s distribution of election brochures in English only.
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For 25 of Greenberg’s years at the county attorney’s office, he worked with then-County Attorney Bob Ginsburg, mostly as his first assistant. The pair were known as “the two birds,” Ginsburg said.
“He was a ferocious advocate for the public interest,” Ginsburg said.
Greenberg was considered the authority on the current County Charter, which he shaped, wrote former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas.
“Murray’s service left its mark and helped shape Miami-Dade County as we know it today,” he wrote. “Murray was unequivocal in his opinions even when it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. His personality was unique, including his witty sense of humor.”
Katy Sorenson, who served as a Miami-Dade County commissioner for 16 years, first met Greenberg when she was elected in 1994.
He called her the night of the election to warn her that she was subject to the Sunshine Law, which requires government communications to be open to the public. Greenberg always made sure everyone around him followed the rules, she said, even grammar rules.
“He never pulled a punch. He never played politics. He never told commissioners what they wanted to hear, only what they needed to hear,” Sorenson said.
Just after Greenberg was promoted to county attorney, he hired Wifredo Ferrer, a fellow University of Pennsylvania Law School alumnus, to work under him. Now, a little over 10 years later, Ferrer serves as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he works with Greenberg’s 45-year-old son, Ben.
Greenberg was “my friend, my confidante and my mentor,” Ferrer said. Greenberg, he said, was a “legal giant” in the community.
“When Murray spoke, people listened,” he said.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez called him “a true public servant and devoted educator.” The men worked together while Gimenez was a county commissioner.
And David Lawrence Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida and former publisher of the Miami Herald, said Greenberg was “a man of decency and wisdom.”
“That is a great legacy for anyone,” Lawrence said.
Both of Greenberg’s sons grew up to be lawyers, although 42-year-old Gerald stressed that they were never pressured.
“Ben and I would both aspire to be half the lawyer he was,” Gerald said.
He never missed a baseball game or school event, Gerald said. Baseball stayed a passion for the Greenberg men. They attended a final baseball game together this summer, when the Miami Marlins played the Cincinnati Reds. They sat behind the plate and cheered when the Marlins won.
“If you live your life like he did,” Gerald Greenberg said, “you’re going to be happy.”
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Bet Shira Congregation in Pinecrest, at 7500 SW 120th St. Burial will follow at Lakeside Memorial Park. Family asks for donations in his memory to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.