Local Obituaries

Miami circuit judge turned award-winning photographer Chuck Edelstein dies at 78

Miami Circuit Judge Charles Edelstein was a nationally acclaimed criminal justice consultant, former prosecutor, author, University of Miami law professor and photographer.
Miami Circuit Judge Charles Edelstein was a nationally acclaimed criminal justice consultant, former prosecutor, author, University of Miami law professor and photographer.

Charles “Chuck” Edelstein, a retired senior judge in the 11th Judicial Circuit and national consultant on court management, began his career in 1965 as an assistant state attorney in the powder keg office of the late State Attorney Richard Gerstein. Gerstein was the Dade County prosecutor who uncovered the first direct links between the Watergate burglary and the White House of President Richard M. Nixon, who wintered in Key Biscayne.

The office, which featured future Circuit Court Judge and former Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber, Janet Reno, and the late Miami trial lawyer Edward Carhart, turned out a legal team who mentored one another and became lifelong friends.

Edelstein died Tuesday at his Coral Gables home after a six-month battle with cancer. He was 78.

“Chuck was an inspiration to all of us,” said Tom Petersen, who spent 25 years as a circuit judge in Miami-Dade. “We were all better people for having known him.”

The two met in 1966 when Petersen moved to Miami after law school. “He was responsible for me getting my first job with the State Attorney’s office in the diversion program for first offenders,” Petersen said. “Sy [Gelber] was his mentor and my mentor and we’ve all remained friends.”

Chuck was a man for all seasons. A talented guy who had a tremendous range of interests. A judge. An author. A consultant. A professor. A photographer.

Judge Tom Petersen.

Defense lawyer James McGuirk, a former assistant state attorney, also came of age with Edelstein in Gerstein’s office. They met as 17-year-old freshman at the University of Florida.

“We were young idealists. He grew older but he never changed. He became a father, a prosecutor, an appellate lawyer, a judge and a court management specialist — and always an idealist,” McGuirk said. “The best thing I can say about him is Seymour Gelber thought the world of him.”

Gelber, now 97, agreed. “Oh boy, was he idealistic,” he said. “A great lawyer. Loved the law.” Edelstein didn’t brandish his stature, Gelber said, “but he let himself be heard. He spoke out and was a powerful speaker. He wasn’t going to win over the world but he was my man.”

Gov. Bob Graham appointed Edelstein to the bench in 1979. He later coordinated the design and construction and renovation of courtrooms and buildings in Miami-Dade as an assistant court administrator and director of court facilities for the 11th Judicial Circuit.

Edelstein wolves Defenders photo
Retired senior judge Charles “Chuck” Edelstein’s ‘Wolves of Denali’ photo, taken in Alaska’s Denali National Park, won Defenders of Wildlife’s grand prize in a photo contest in 2015. Charles Edelstein Defenders of Wildlife

Edelstein, an outdoors man and marathon runner, turned into an award-winning photographer in 2015 when Defenders of Wildlife awarded his photograph of a wild wolf family in Alaska’s Denali National Park its grand prize. He was also a law professor and director of the trial advocacy program at the University of Miami.

The Neptune, New Jersey-born Edelstein spearheaded reforms in caseload management practices in Miami-Dade, Seminole and Brevard counties. The Criminal Law Section of the Florida Bar honored him in 2015 for his role in reducing jail population.

In one of his letters to the Miami Herald’s editorial pages, Edelstein, then a senior judge in 2008, wrote: “Effective, relevant education and decent-paying jobs give kids a stake in the community and a future with hope and dignity. With a paycheck and self-esteem, crime rates will fall.”

Edelstein’s survivors include his wife Diane, his children Shari and Amy, four grandchildren, and his brother Joel. A memorial will be at 5 p.m. July 20 at Newman Alumni Center at the University of Miami, 6200 San Amaro Dr., Coral Gables. Contributions can be sent to Save Our Sisters in Miami and the Nederland Community Library Foundation, P.O. Box 1226, Nederland, Colorado, 80466.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen