When Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett Brummer needed personal legal counsel, he went to Louis M. Jepeway Jr. because the two men regarded life and law much the same way.
Jepeway and his father and law partner, Louis M. Jepeway Sr., encouraged the political neophyte Brummer to run for public defender the first time, in 1976, and supported him throughout his career.
“That was a time in Miami culture when we thought of diversity as a Jewish candidate and a Lebanese treasurer,” Brummer said, referring to his heritage and the Jepeways’.
“He was a mensch,” Brummer, now retired, said of Jepeway Jr. “He was a charming iconoclast and non-conformist.“
Louis “Louie” Jepeway, 76, died Sunday of cardiac arrest. He was a lifelong resident not only of Miami, but of a modest house in Little Havana, the house his parents owned when he was born.
He had practiced law for 50 years before he retired and was known for his dogged, quirky and intellectual pursuit of justice, often in the civil rights arena. Many of his clients were unpopular, such as murder defendants and lawyers in trouble with the Florida Bar.
The capital cases were especially draining, Jepeway wrote in a 1985 column for The Miami News. “Several years ago, I spent six weeks doing nothing — and I mean nothing — but writing a brief for the Supreme Court of Florida in a death penalty case,” he wrote.
“Clients found it difficult to understand why I was unavailable. Weren’t their cases important? Should they seek other counsel? One even gave me a gift with a note imploring, ‘Please don’t forget me.’
“My secretary took as much of my grouchiness as she could stand. She then ordered me not to speak to her until the brief was filed. I obeyed.”
Yet he concluded the column this way: “The attorney who attempts to prevent the state from murdering a client seeks to cleanse our society and to affirm our highest value, the sanctity of human life. He does not know if he will be successful. But the effort itself confers honor, dignity, and meaning upon an unreceptive society. An attorney has no nobler calling.”
To criminal defense lawyer Richard Houlihan, who co-counseled cases with Jepeway, the column epitomized his friend.
“There’s something inside of him, in his character, that he truly at a human level feels for people, and he uses his abilities to help people with nothing who need help,” said Houlihan, who spoke in the present tense about his close friend, the godfather of one of his children.
Jepeway had no children of his own, but for 32 years he had the love and support of his life partner Patricia “Trish” Myer of Coral Gables. Both were longtime board members of the ACLU’s Miami chapter. Together, they nurtured their friends and their friends’ children, always ready to help professionally and personally.
“He had such a beautiful heart. He loved people so much, and material things did not matter at all,” Myer said. “He will always be remembered for his wry sense of humor and his intellectual curiosity. Our relationship was a perfect fit for both of us.”
Other survivors are 10 first cousins, including Lisa Smith of Miami.
Jepeway was devoted to his parents, whose parents had emigrated from Lebanon to rural Dublin, Georgia. In the 1920s they moved to Miami. Jepeway Sr. made money on the real estate boom and attended the University of Miami’s new law school. Before long, he was building a reputation as a consummate trial lawyer with a gentlemanly Southern manner.
When Jepeway Jr. was in first grade at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School he met Paul George, the Miami historian. They were lifelong friends, bonding at first over sports and Frances Jepeway’s hospitality to the always-hungry boys her son brought home. She died in 1967.
“Louie was a role model for me, from a family of achievers, great parents and relatives. He had a good study ethic that influenced me,” George said. Two of his children are Jepeway’s godsons.
Over the decades, his friend glimpsed what few others saw: Jepeway’s financial support of progressive causes, including legal services for the poor, the Boys Club of Miami, and the ACLU. “He was always very generous, but he didn’t want anybody to know,” George said.
Jepeway earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and remained an ardent fan of the school’s football team. He graduated from the University of Florida’s law school in 1967 and went into practice with his father.
The two had different but compatible styles. When Jepeway Sr. died in 1993, his son kept the firm name of Jepeway & Jepeway and never changed anything in his office.
“His dad was his whole world,” Myer said. “He emulated every aspect of his father.”
Jepeway Jr. was honored with awards from the ACLU Miami chapter for his advocacy of civil liberties and civil rights, the Theodore R. Gibson Memorial Fund for “his efforts to foster a oneness among Miami-Dade’s multi-ethnic communities,” and Legal Services of Greater Miami for his contributions to “equal justice under law.”
He was a creature of habit enhanced by loyalty. For many years, Jepeway ate lunch at the old Burdines department store restaurant a block from his Flagler Street office. Miami lawyer Brian Tannebaum remembered one particular outing.
“I hadn’t eaten there since my grandmother would take me there as a kid. So even at a time when Burdines was on its last legs, as was the food, we went,” he wrote in an online tribute. “A few of the regulars were there, as evidenced by their reaction to Louis’ arrival. What I remember most, of course, was spending 90 minutes at a Miami institution with another Miami institution.”
Instead of flowers, the family requests donations in Jepeway’s memory to these charities: The ACLU Foundation of Florida, Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc., or Americans for Immigrant Justice.
A visitation will be held from 6-9 p.m. June 10 at the Van Orsdel Family Funeral Chapel, 4600 SW Eighth St., in Coral Gables. A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. June 11 at St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, 3475 SW 17th St., Miami.