From Brooklyn to Biscayne Bay and on to Tallahassee: The Remarkable Story of Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan
by Seth H. Bramson
Greek philosopher Socrates provided one of the earliest descriptions of the qualities of a good judge: “Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly and to decide impartially.” Justice Gerald Kogan was not only a good judge, he was a great judge. In From Brooklyn to Biscayne Bay and on to Tallahassee: The Remarkable Story of Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan, Seth H. Bramson, who is America’s single most published Florida history book author, tells the remarkable story about Justice Kogan’s journey from Brooklyn to Miami, prosecutor to private practice, and circuit court judge to Supreme Court justice.
The biography begins with the story of Justice Kogan’s family and the impact it had on his life. Due to rampant antisemitism in Odessa, Russia, his Jewish grandparents gave up their chosen profession and immigrated to the U.S. Justice Kogan’s father was a self-made man. He worked his way through pharmacy school, opened a successful and lucrative pharmacy, and worked 12 to 13 hours a day, seven days a week. Similar to his father, Justice Kogan had a Herculean work ethic and succeeded at every stage of his life.
In academia, Justice Kogan was a champion debater in high school and college. At the University of Miami, where he went to undergraduate and law school, Justice Kogan served as president of the student senate, vice president of the student body, and was selected into UM’s most prestigious honor society. As a state prosecutor, he worked on some of the most challenging and high-profile cases, and won almost all his cases. He became head of the Homicide and Capital Crimes Division when he was only 29 years old. As one defense counsel stated in the Miami Herald, “Kogan wasn’t just good. He was absolutely excellent.” After 25 years as a prosecutor, he was appointed as a circuit court judge; seven years later, the Florida Supreme Court, and finally, chief justice.
Although Justice Kogan rose quickly, he never took any shortcuts or compromised his integrity in doing so. Almost every decision rendered by Justice Kogan was upheld by the appellate court. One attorney described Justice Kogan as “the absolute ideal of what a judge should be.” Perhaps his greatest quality as a jurist was that he was incorr
uptible and totally blind to race, gender, or creed. As the author noted, Justice Kogan’s “incorruptibility was not only uncompromising, it was legendary; anyone in politics or socialite in Florida knew this well.”
By the end of the book, the reader understands that Justice Kogan, now retired — although still active in the legal community — was not only a good judge, he was a great one. He didn’t just work to live; he lives to serve. The biography, which reads like a novel, contains exciting narratives and provides a concise, yet comprehensive, look into the remarkable life of a living icon. Justice Kogan’s story is inspirational, and I highly recommend the book. In addition, the proceeds from the book go to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, which, based on the recommendation of physicians and nurses, was named after Justice Kogan’s daughter, Debbie Kogan Lyda, for her courage, compassion, and selflessness.
Alen H. Hsu is a member of The Florida Bar.