Judge who sentenced Boesky in NY to prison dies

AP News
Posted: Dec 29, 2009 5:55 PM

Morris Lasker, the judge who sentenced Ivan Boesky to prison in a 1980s insider trading scandal and helped eliminate horrid conditions in New York City jails, has died. He was 92.

His son, Timothy Lasker of Chilmark, said Lasker died Friday in Cambridge, Mass., from cancer. A private graveside service was held Sunday, and a memorial was being planned for the spring at federal court in Boston, he said.

Lasker, born in Hartsdale, N.Y., in July 1917, was appointed to the federal bench in 1967. He served 25 years in Manhattan before transferring to Boston, where he worked for 15 years.

In 1987, he sentenced Boesky to three years in prison in what was then Wall Street's biggest insider trading case, saying it was essential to incarcerate white-collar criminals.

"Breaking the law is breaking the law," Lasker said. "Some kind of message must be sent to the business community that such activities cannot be wholly repaired simply by repaying people after the fact."

For more than two decades, Lasker presided over lawsuits seeking to change brutal conditions in New York City jails, where suicides once occurred weekly. He ordered changes, and the city spent more than $1 billion improving conditions.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz, a former Legal Aid lawyer who represented inmates in the lawsuits, recalled Lasker's role in the litigation, saying he was likely the "pre-eminent figure in the United States in the area of jail reform."

"He's left an amazing legacy in New York City, which serves as a model for the country. He was instrumental in bringing about humane, constitutional conditions for pretrial detainees," he said.

Katz added: "He really believed that the Constitution guaranteed all people equal justice under the law, even people like prisoners who don't have much of a constituency."

In November 1990, Lasker ordered the city to pay jailed crime suspects who don't get beds within 24 hours $150 and $100 for every 12 hours afterward until beds are provided.

"The imposition of these sanctions is done in the hope that such sums will never have to be paid because the department will be in compliance," Lasker said.

The city eventually responded to Lasker's orders, including rebuilding a roach- and mice-infested jail in lower Manhattan known as the Tombs after Lasker ordered it closed in 1974.

"He was my model for the kind of judge I wanted to be," Katz said. "He was an incredibly patient, humane person both in litigation as well as a human being.