Way back in the day, students sat in classrooms in alphabetical order. So if your name was Turkewitz, you’d sit next to a kid named Tessel.
And so it was at Brooklyn Law where my father sat next to Stanley Tessel, who scared the crap out of dad with his incredibly organized notes, made with different colored pens. My father, by contrast, has handwriting like mine, which my 5th grade teacher charitably called chickenscratch.
Stanley Tessel died on December 7th at the age of 86, having retired after 62 years of practicing law. He wasn’t just one of the preeminent medical malpractice attorneys in the state when it came to obstetrical cases and brain damaged babies, but was a pioneer as the field developed through the 1960s and 70s.
You see that photo of a trial bag to the right? It says “T & T” on it, which stood for Turkewitz & Tessel, the firm my Bronx-born father and his Brooklyn-born buddy formed a couple years after they graduated in 1952. That bag is about 60-years-old, and sits in the corner of my office, ready for my next trial. It’s held a lot of stories, including those from the days that the two friends did defense work for Professional Insurance Company of New York, defending doctors and hospitals in medical malpractice cases.
Tessel, according to my father, was an outstanding trial lawyer back in those days.
After Turkewitz & Tessel split up after 15 years — when Professional Insurance went belly-up — my father went on to lead the medical malpractice department at Fuchsberg & Fuchsberg while Tessel went over to Charlie Kramer’s law firm, which subsequently became Kramer, Dilloff, Tessel, Duffy & Moore.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the firm is one of top medical malpractice firms in the nation, now known as Kramer, Dillof, Livingston & Moore. Tessel, even long after he’d retired in 1989 and moved to Florida, would still fly up to New York to take the depositions of doctors in obstetrical cases. When the top firm in the nation has a lawyer flying in from Florida to take a deposition, you know the lawyer is good.
Chuck Silverstein, who worked with Stanley for years at Kramer Dillof, and with whom I shared office space for several years, wrote to me:
One of the things I remember most about Stanley was that he liked to talk about your father a lot. He told me the law school story (related above), always with a big smile on his face.
At one point Stanley bought himself a Rolls Royce but realized it was a dumb thing to do and got rid of it. (ET – But before getting rid of it, he came by our house to give my folks a ride. My mother quipped, “It rides as nice as our Cutless!”)
Stanley used to love going to Harry’s in the basement of the Woolworth building. He and I would sit at the bar and he would order two drinks and two shrimp cocktails and the war stories would flow.
The joke at the retirement party was that Harry’s would go out of business without him around.
At the party, a prominent obstetrician toasting Stanley said that “He knows so much about obstetrics, I’d like him present in the delivery room when my own wife gives birth.”
When I first started working at Kramer Dillof Stanley told me that I’d need a copy of Williams on Obstetrics. I think he gave me his own copy since he basically knew everything in it already.
Stanley was a very generous man. I think the term ‘magnanimous’ really sums him up — both professionally and personally.”
One day, many years back, Silverstein asked me to try one of the cases that Kramer, Dillof had worked up. This happens from time to time when there’s a manpower shortage and the judges are screaming at you to go pick a jury.
I cracked open the file and found handwriting that looked like it came from a typewriter — with analysis to match. In different colored inks. While I had never actually seen Tessel’s handwriting before, as I’d never worked with him, I recognized his work immediately based on my father’s stories. And so I went on to take a verdict in this case my father’s old partner had worked up at a different firm.
A long obituary appeared in the New York Times this past Friday, written by his survivors. It recounted Tessel’s service in the Air Force during the Korean War, serving in Pusan as part of the Judge Advocate General.
While the obituary mentioned that he was entombed with full military honors by the Air Force Honor Guard, it failed to mention the time he almost got court-martialed. For working too hard.
It seems that the officers on the base would quit work at four and head over to the Officer’s Club for drinks. And Tessel’s office in the JAG was just across the way. And with Tessel-the-perfectionist working late, the light was always on.
(This late-night work came as no surprise to my father as he recounted the almost-court-martialed story to me, since in law school my father would quit a long day of studying at 7 due to exhaustion, while Tessel continued deep into the night even though he knew the material cold.)
So the other officers discussed this “problem” of Tessel working so hard and so late with Tessel’s superior, telling the boss it wasn’t right to make Tessel work that way. The commanding officer, in turn, told Tessel that maybe it would be a good idea to quit work at four like everyone else.
The court-martial risk came because Tessel thought this had just been a suggestion.
Not bad for a war story.
It’s always sad to lose an old friend or acquaintance.
But your mention of the Rolls triggered a thought of mine. Near my humble abode is an ethnic Catholic church where the priest, who lives next door to the church, has a Rolls. A priest with a Rolls? Ah, yes but it’s probably fifty years old. An older and thereby much undesired model of Rolls will not set one back much more than a brand new looks-like-all-the-others-stamped-out-like-cookie automobile. I knew a fellow out in San Jose who did the same thing, buying a well-used model, although he was not, when I knew him, one of THOSE San Josers. The issue, of course, is parts and service. A priest can possibly get a “dispensation discount”. “Bless you my son and how’s about another ten percent off the bill? For Jesus.”
The lure of the Rolls is a strong one and you never know where you might run across one in life.
Now, the Maybach, on the other hand …
Growing up my father and Stanley Tessel’s partner, Bernie Turkewitz were close like brothers. It gave me access to hear stories about their exploits . One of the reasons that I became a lawyer was because of the stories that my cousin “Bob” would tell about the trials & tribulations of his firm. He always had nothing but wonderful things to say about his partner, Stanley Tessel. In fact, while working for my uncle initially as a law clerk and then a young lawyer in Far Rockaway, I first heard the term the “Terrible T’s” about their firm. When they were defending a case, there was a great likelihood that you were not going to win. They were that good! Nobody knew medicine like Stanley Tessel. The plaintiff’s bar was ecstatic when they came over to the side of the angels.
You did Stanley Tessel proud in writing the obit that you wrote.
Thanks for the comments Steve, much appreciated.
Stanley was truly a great one in the Golden Era of medical malpractice. I’d like to see someone write a book with a history of the great personal injury firms of the 60s and 70s, along with their stories.
I recall one indirect accolade about Stanley Tessel, which shows the respect given him by the defense bar…
In 1984, when I was a rookie doing med malp defense work at Furey, Furey, Gerver & McHenry, there was a single page of a deposition transcript taped to the wall in the coffee room. It came from an OB/GYN case in which Stanley was examining our Doctor. The exchange seemed rather relaxed and confident. At the bottom of the page, in a final question Tessel said, “Take your time in answering this question doctor, you’re dead either way.”
He was that good. So was his firm and so was your dad at Fuchsberg & Fuchsberg, although until now, I didn’t realize the connection.