Local Obituaries

He was an only-in-Miami kind of judge. Edward Klein dies at 89

Judge Edward Klein served in the Miami-Dade circuit court from 1973 to 1992 and joined Mediation, Inc. as a mediator in 1993.
Judge Edward Klein served in the Miami-Dade circuit court from 1973 to 1992 and joined Mediation, Inc. as a mediator in 1993.

Only in Miami cases? The Hon. Edward Klein ruled on smugglers, playmates and scofflaws.

In 1992, Klein ruled against a local supermarket chain after the retailer unknowingly sold a deadly cocaine-contaminated bottle of Pony Malta de Bavaria that was tainted by a former soft-drink importer turned smuggler.

In 1983, Playboy’s 1977 Playmate of the Year, Patti McGuire Connors, came before Judge Klein after she sued her husband, tennis star Jimmy Connors, for divorce. She didn’t want their 3-year-old son to travel from their Turnberry Isle apartment to visit Connors while he played at Wimbledon because the boy had told his mother he had seen his pop kissing “a new girlfriend.”

Klein suggested she accompany her son to England. Instead, the couple reconciled and are still married.

Richard Jacobs was a fellow trial lawyer with Klein when both, along with the late Judge Ellen Morphonios, worked together at the State Attorney’s Office in the early 1960s. Klein was division head and already developing his reputation as a man with a jovial sense of humor, a brilliant legal mind and an even temperament.

“There was a major case we tried together, a robbery in a whorehouse in what is now Aventura,” Jacobs recalled, laughing that he probably ought to say less. “I keep threatening to write a book … something out of a Damon Runyon novel with these characters.”

Klein, Jacobs said, “was a good man. Thoughtful, considerate, respectful of people. A good trial lawyer. He never let any position go to his head. I learned a lot from him.”

Klein, a retired Miami-Dade circuit court judge, a mediator and a Marlins fan, died June 10 at 89 of a blood disorder.

“He was truly a great father, husband to my mother, and grandfather to my children,” his son, Larry, said. “He loved life so very much and being part of his loving family. My mother is a saint and took care of my dad at his time of need. She kept him comfortable, happy and safe at home [in Kendale Lakes], where he passed quietly.”

OBIT KLEIN wife granddaughter
Wilma and her husband Edward Klein flank granddaughter Lauren Zwieg at a University of Florida basketball game, circa 2010. Courtesy Larry Klein

Born in Brooklyn on Nov. 17, 1927, Klein moved to Miami in 1943 and graduated from Miami Beach High School. There, he briefly dated Barbara Walters, who would go on to fame in TV journalism.

“I met her in the French Club. We weren’t sweethearts. We may have gone out two or three times,” Klein told the Miami Herald in 1990, when an unauthorized biography on the TV star named him. “We were all close to one another. It was a very nice group of kids. They were very happy times.”

Walters Oppenheimer book
“Barbara Walters: An Unauthorized Biography” by Jerry Oppenheimer in 1990 named Judge Edward Klein as one of the TV journalist’s boyfriends when the two were at Miami Beach High in the 1940s. St. Martin’s Press

Klein earned his law degree from the University of Florida in 1949. He was an assistant state attorney from 1957 to 1965, when he became a judge, first in criminal court and then civil. In 1973, he began serving as a Miami-Dade circuit judge through 1993.

When Klein retired, he served as a mediator with Mediation Firm Inc., in Fort Lauderdale, for more than 15 years. The mediator role fit.

“Ed was perfect for mediation,” said retired Circuit Judge David Levy. “He had the personality. He wouldn’t lecture people or talk down to them. He had the experience.”

Levy was a newly appointed circuit judge when he met Klein in 1978. “We became friends and had lunch five days a week. He had a tremendous sense of humor and was a great judge with tremendous integrity, which helped me gravitate to him. He never got flustered, never got mad in court.”

When a judge renders a decision, trial lawyers must stop arguing or they face contempt of court. When Levy earned his seat on the bench, he looked to Klein as a role model. One time, after Klein ruled, the losing trial attorney kept arguing with the opposing counsel. Klein told the nonplussed attorneys, “I ruled; that’s the end of the argument.”

The feud raged. As Klein and Levy walked out of the courtroom, Klein turned to the squabbling attorneys and said, “When you’re through arguing will you turn the lights out on your way out?”

“That was the most professional way to handle it,” Levy said. “If the lawyers want to argue, they can argue in an empty room.”

This was the man who introduced me to my love for dance, music, Broadway, and the song ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ by Fats Waller at the age of 7. He also taught me the importance of having a sense of humor. His jokes never got old and he never let anything come before his family.

Lauren Zwieg on her grandfather, Edward Klein.

Was Klein funny? Was he ever.

“All the people I have talked to in the last few days always comment on his great sense of humor and the 1955 Chevy that we bought when we got married in ’55 and he drove for the next 35 years,” said his wife, Wilma Klein.

One time, Klein and Levy were carpooling on the 836 heading to their West Kendall homes. Klein was driving the green-and-white Chevy Nomad and wearing a pair of frosted sunglasses. White smoke started billowing from the floorboards.

“I said, ‘Ed, I don’t want to alarm you but your car’s on fire. Don’t you see that smoke?’ He sees nothing in those smoked glasses. I said, ‘Ed. We’re on fire.’ He says ‘Stop it!’ and then takes those glasses off and sees all this smoke. We jump out of the car. It was oil boiling,” Levy laughed.

“He was a dear, dear man,” Levy said. “His puns were hysterical. Even if the jokes weren’t good, he’d look at you with this empty stare without laughing to see if you’d break into laughter first and wait you out to see if you would laugh first. It was him telling you the joke that was so funny.”

In 1987, when private country clubs were under fire for restrictive policies, the Miami Herald named some judges who were members. Klein quipped that he belonged to a restricted club, “restricted to people who own a 1955, ’56 or ’57 Chevy. I’m the only guy in Miami with the same car and the same wife for 32 years.”

Klein’s survivors include his wife, Wilma, son Larry, and grandchildren Kristin and Austin Klein and Lauren Zwieg. He was predeceased by his daughter, Jill Klein Rodgers. Services will be private.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen