The New York Times summed up the full life of a remarkable man in its lead paragraph:
Michael Koskoff, a renowned and dogged Connecticut litigator who defended Black Panthers, won record malpractice awards, mounted racial job-discrimination battles and sued gunmakers whose weapons were used in the Sandy Hook school massacre, died on Wednesday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 77.
The story details many more achievements of the longtime Westporter, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer.
He collaborated with his son Jacob on the screenplay for “Marshall,” the 2017 film about a major civil rights case — in Bridgeport – litigated by future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. (Click here for the complete “06880” story.)
With his other son, Westport resident Josh — a senior partner in the law firm Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder — he won an important gun rights case last month. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that manufacturers of guns used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre can be held liable, in a suit brought by victims’ families.
Another celebrated case — involving hiring quotas in Bridgeport for black and Hispanic police officers — led to similar suits elsewhere. The result was more minorities being hired by police and fire departments across the country.
Michael Koskoff also “pioneered the use of vivid courtroom videos delivered in a documentary format,” the Times said.
He is survived by Rosalind Jacobs, his wife of 56 years; sons Josh and Jacob; daughters Sarah (an actress and screenwriter) and Juliet (a lawyer in New York); 2 sisters, and 8 grandsons.
Michael Koskoff was a very devoted father and grandfather. In a torrent of tributes, some of the most eloquent were posted on social media by those closest to him.
The day after his father died, Jacob wrote:
Over the past 24 hours many have said they are sorry for our loss, and I haven’t been able to pinpoint why that hasn’t sounded right. But the answer is obvious: from the very beginning, it was just so incredibly unfair how fortunate we were to have had him as a father.
A month earlier, on his father’s birthday, Jacob had said:
Soon after he got his diagnosis, my dad and I were walking in downtown Westport waiting for our takeout. It was dark and cold, and he was slow, and I was holding a box of cupcakes — students were raising money for something that I’m pretty sure was never explained to us. For the first time I asked him how he was feeling, in the greater sense. He took one breath and said, “I’m just glad this happened after the movie came out. If it had been before, I’d be seriously pissed.”
He has 8 grandsons, and each one is his favorite.
Eyes on the Prize. Wild Strawberries. Shakespeare at The Public Theater. He took me to see Annie when I was 8. Henry IV parts 1 and 2 a few years later. He is the most unpretentious, socially conscious, opera-loving wine connoisseur you’ll ever meet.
We went to dozens of Mets games together. He coached my Little League teams with his friend Terry Smith. They would sometimes pick the batting lineup out of a hat. He knew little about how the game was played and had no business coaching a team of 13-15-year-olds. He’d hit fielding practice and say “third base,” then weakly ground the ball to first. He had devoted himself to the sport, had humbled himself, only to be closer to me. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?
Joan Baez taught him how to play the guitar in Harvard Square.
He once lent a car he wasn’t using to an acquaintance. Not even a friend, just someone he knew who needed a car. He never saw the car again. Not only did my dad not report it to the police, but for years he paid the guy’s parking tickets.
What’s the opposite of self-pity? Right, gratitude. That’s his religion: live with grace and kindness, persistence, generosity, and always, whenever possible, with gratitude.
Michael’s daughter Juliet Koskoff Diamond added:
He died as he lived, with grace and gratitude for all the gifts he has been giving. In the end he was surrounded by his family, listening, to Mozart and quoting Shakespeare. He was able to say goodbye and was at peace.
And Josh’s wife, Darcy Hicks, wrote:
My father-in-law, Mike Koskoff, spent 77 years blasting this earth with love and justice. Knowing him made your life easier. He made it easy to become a part of his amazing family. He made it easier to laugh when you thought you weren’t in the mood. He made it easier to see the path to justice when no one thought there was one.
And mostly, he made it easy to love everyone- because through his eyes, empathy spilled and cleaned the view, so everyone who knew him could see how to live better. There’s only one thing he made impossible: doing that deifying thing we do about someone when they die. He just didn’t leave us any room to embellish him.
(Click here for the full New York Times obituary.)