Judge Nahum Litt

For decades, Judge Nahum Litt served the people from inside the federal government. Chief judge at the Labor Dept from 1978 until retiring in 1994, Judge Litt was curious about the world, leading his keen mind to hold a little bit knowledgeable about a lot of subjects. His sister Trudy recalls, “Nammy was a walking encyclopedia – there was nothing under discussion that he could not contribute information to; it was as if he absorbed and retained whatever he read, just on the chance that it might come up in some future conversation.”

 

He also enjoyed birding, opera, travel, thrift shopping, and helping others. Perhaps Judge Litt’s greatest quality was standing up for human rights. A former law clerk, Ed Slavin recalled that Judge Litt “helped persuade the American Bar Association House of Delegates to pass resolutions protecting Gay rights (1989), whistleblower rights (1990) and security clearance due process (1989).”

 

The rights of working men and women were important to Judge Litt. When the country was plagued by men and communities suffering with painful, deadly black lung disease, Judge Litt hired a hundred lawyers and sent them to handle the claims of coal miners. That helped thousands of people and their coal mining communities. His daughter, Marcia, recalled the judge kept a lump of coal on his desk to remind himself of the needs of people.

 

Born August 3, 1935 in Baltimore, Maryland, a son of Harry and Reva L (Naiman) Litt, Nahum Litt was one of four children. His older brother, Daniel was born in 1933; a younger brother Abraham was born in 1944, and his sister Trudy born in 1947. Their parents were immigrants, recalled Trudy: “Both parents grew up in a small town in Russia (today the Ukraine). My father ran away to be a pioneer in Palestine; my mother traveled to the US with her mother and younger brother to join her father and brother already in Baltimore. They had been a “couple” back in Russia, and at the end of a long story and travel, our father joined our mother in the US in 1933.”

 

Litt was educated at Cornell University, and later at Columbia University. He became a member of the Bar in Maryland in 1959, and in the District of Columbia in 1969. Nahum married Judith A. Holzman, a Wellesly graduate in the class of 1958, on June 26, 1961 at Temple Sinai, in Washington, D.C.. Miss. Holzman was the daughter of Arthur D. Holzman and Selma Silverman Holzman. They had one daughter, Marcia Litt, of Washington, D. C. who survives them both.

 

Following divorce from bis first wife, Judith, Judge Litt was married to Judge Jean F. Greene on August 17, 1987. Judge Greene was also an administrative law judge, working at the Environmental Protective Agency.

 

Litt worked as an attorney at the Interstate Commerce Commission from 1960-1965. In 1965, he became an appellate trial lawyer in the General Counsel General’s office, serving in that capacity until 1970. Next, he was a hearing examiner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency from 1970-1977. Litt became chief Administrative Law Judge at the Civil Aeronautics Board, Washington, D. C. from 1977-1979.

 

Chairman Alfred Kahn of the CAB said of Judge Litt in announcing his appointment to Chief Judge that Litt “by conviction respects the traditions of the independence from the board that are essential to preserve the objectivity and the assurances of due process that we expect of our administrative law judges.” In 1979, Judge Litt was appointed Chief Judge of the Labor Department, a position he served in until his retirement. The Washington Post noted, “As chief judge, Litt is responsible for overseeing the management of an operation of 200 employees, including 73 administrative law judges, in offices scattered around the country.”

 

The first-generation son of immigrants, Judge Litt was awarded the Edith Lowenstein Memorial Award in 1987, for excellence in advancing the practice of immigration law. A member of the Federal Administrative Law Judges Conference, for which he served as president 1977, Judge Litt was a member of American Bar Association, and the Federal Bar Association. He was a former member of the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC.

 

Surviving change of administration and the whims of political appointees was not easy for Judge Litt. Standing up in court to protect the rights of workers is, in some ways, similar to being a whistleblower – it can make you unpopular with the powers that be who prefer to let injustice lie in order to serve the interests of wealthy corporations and the Chamber of Commerce. When one becomes too much of a crusader, eventually the powerful find a way to move one out of such a key position as chief judge in the Labor Department. In the bureaucratic language of government administrators, it can lead to a determination of non-standard performance.
Judge Litt retired from the Department of Labor in 1994 following a two-year disagreement with the labor department inspector general. He knew how the political game was played. In 1991, he was quoted in an article in the ABA Journal on the independence of Administrative Law Judges:

 

“Agencies exercise control via different ways,” says Nahum Litt, the chief administrative law judge at the U. S. Department of Labor, who nonetheless gives his department high marks for judicial independence. He said the administrators’ control methods range from “anything as petty as parking spaces, adequate secretarial, adequate law clerks, facilities, where judges are housed, how they’re house. A whole litany of small things.” (Debra Cassens Moss, “Judges Under Fire: ALJ Independence at Issue,” ABA Journal, Vol. 77, No. 11, Nov. 1991 pp 56-59)

 

Judge Litt wrote for the New England Law Review in 1983 concerning the tension between the duties of an administrative law judge and the agency where such judges served:

 

“The hallmark of the administrative process must be its fairness whenever it resolves disputes over governmental rights and benefits or otherwise arbitrates or adjudicates the private rights of citizens….What is apparent, however, is that governments in general have not yet come to terms with the level of process in the system required to guarantee fairness or the appearance of fairness.”

 

“There is no single answer that works well in every instance to balance how judges can be independent and accountable. There is no good answer to the question of how one evaluates a judge who is slow. Can anyone say that the judge who decides and issues forty cases a month but twenty come back on remand is better or worse than the judge who issues fifteen decisions a month and none are reversed? But, there can be no gainsaying that self-policing and peer review are better handled in the context of a unified corp or separate corp of judges than they are in situations where an agency having a stake in the outcome of a proceeding will be both the prosecutor, and possibly the judge, of the judge.”

 

“…outside of the small “old boy” network of interested judges and agencies that hire administrative law judges, few members of the public – those who will be most affected by the outcome of the debate – are either interested or knowledgeable.”

 

“Each of the reforms within the last decade has come because of strong interest groups having an issue and wanting their problem re-addressed. There are few public interest groups, however, which have reform of administrative procedures high on their list of priorities, and, more likely, most are not interested in pressing the point if it is to the detriment of their other principal issues.” Nahum Litt, “Forward: This Year’s Reform is Next Year’s Need for Reform” Western New England Law Review 6 3 (1983-1984)
In retirement, Judge Litt had many opportunities to enjoy birding, a passion he shared with his wife, Judge Jean F. Greene. They eventually moved to Florida, attended opera events, and traveled occasionally to distant places. The Judge also loved going to thrift shops, where he could find forgotten treasures of many kinds to delight him. However, his real interest was people. He liked to meet new people, and was generous in making suggestions to help them out of problems. He could send you to “see a guy” and it usually was worth your while to follow his advice.

 

Judge Litt is survived by his wife, Judge Jean F Greene of New Smyrna, Florida, by his brother Daniel in Cleveland, Ohio, his brother Abraham in Boston, Massachusetts, his sister Trudy Greener in Israel. His daughter Marcia lives in Washington, D.C.

 

***

 

References

 

Nahum Litt, “Forward: This Year’s Reform is Next Year’s Need for Reform”

Western New England Law Review Volume 6 (1983-1984) Issue 3

 

Nahum Litt & Joseph J. Simeone, An Administrative Law Judge Corps: Its Value and Relation to tile Traditional System of Justice, 11 WHITTIER L. REv. 569 (1989)

 

“Judith Holzman in Fiance of Nahum Litt; Welesly Graduate and ICC Lawyer Plan to Be Married in July,” The New York Times, March 5, 1962 105

 

“At Home in Washington,” Marriage Announcement, Washington, Post Jul 23, 1961 F12

 

Prabook, World Biographical Encyclopedia, https://prabook.com/web/nahum.litt/918057

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Administrative_law_judge

 

Federal Administrative Law Judges Conference http://www.faljc.org/

 

Burton S. Kolko, “Wishful Thinking at the CAB” letter to the Editor, Washington Post, February 10, 1978 A14

 

Debra Cassens Moss, “Judges Under Fire: ALJ Independence at Issue,” ABA Journal, Vol. 77, No. 11, Nov. 1991 pp 56-59

 

Frank Swoboda, “Labor Dept Trying to Out Administration law Judge,” Washington Post, Feb 12, 1994 C1

 

Frank Swoboda, “Prominent Chief Judge Agrees to Give up Post,” Washington Post,

March 16, 1995

 

Ed Slavin, “Judge Nahum Litt (Retired) Turns 80 Today – United States Department of Labor Chief Judge 1979-1995” blog post cite to come

 

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Primary Research is Slow

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Steam tugboat Baltimore, photo copyright David W. Wooddell

I’ve written before about working in archives, and doing primary research. These days, I’ve been back at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, digging through their original documents. It’s fascinating stuff, but so time consuming. Slow is the enemy of the freelance writer. I’ve been on this project for five years, and I’m still working on it. Will it make a million dollars? I don’t even think it will make a million pennies. Yet, I persist – because I’m thorough. I don’t want to walk away from five years of hard work.

During the time I’ve been on this project, one of my other projects fell through as my main source became disgusted with my slowness and withdrew from the exclusive agreement we had for me to mine his documents and write about his big project. Of course, that was a story of a sunken ship and the important legal case over ownership of millions of dollars worth of silver.

My current project concerns a boat that has not yet sunk – but may well sink at her dock because of lack of maintenance. I desperately hope my book project is published before that happens.

 

Berylium’s Slow Death

A few decades ago, while on a research assignment for National Geographic books, I met Herb Anderson, one of the builders of the atom bomb. He was living in a ranch house just outside of Los Alamos. Despite all the success that he and his fellow scientists had in nuclear physics, recievi9ng awards, and congratulations of his peers and high government officials, one thing he didn’t have was good health.

Anderson’s breathing was difficult and labored from berylliosis, which he’d gotten during his work as a scientist. He was on oxygen 24 hours a day, walking around his house on what seemed an endless tether connected to his oxygen tanks. If he went out, which was rare, he had to take a portable tank with him.

Dr. Anderson told me that he’d chopped beryllium by hand on the day the news of the discovery of fission had been hand delivered by Niels Bohr to the laboratory of Enrico Fermi in New York’s Columbia University. Working as Fermi’s laboratory assistant, they reproduced the fission experiment that day — the first fission to be created in the US. From there, the eventually went to Chicago and created the first nuclear pile. That, by the way, was the subject of Dr. Anderson’s Phd dissertation, the official report on building the first nuclear pile.

Beryllium is a terrible poison to all humans. Compared to asbestos it is much stronger, and more of a killer. Which is why it must surely be a sin to expose more workers to such poisons today. It’s one thing for a scientist in his lab to experiment with such materials in the hectic days of science of the 1940s to defeat the Nazis.

It’s something else to ruthlessly expose workers to beryllium today in order to save money for the corporations and their stock holders. That is what the Trump administration is trying to do, abettors of the crime of exposing workers to deadly illness.

So why is the Trump administration bent on doing exactly that? What is it, Mr. Trump? Do you think the world has forgotten what it is to poison workers for greed? Will that make America great again?

Flounder

 

55575691_2551350338269823_9118965148575334400_oIn the 80’s, I spent some time in Florida where my parents lived. St. Petersburg was a town built at sea-level. When the tide was high with a full moon and the wind coming from the wrong direction, the streets would flood; and if there was a storm during those conditions, the manhole covers would fly into the air from the pressure in the storm sewers. The water had no place to drain. That didn’t make me want to live there. However, there was some pretty good fishing there, and occasionally I caught a pretty one. I caught this flounder from the dock behind my brother’s house, on the bayou that faced the mangrove islands.

Mysteries and Suspense

 

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Mysteries and Suspense. The novel I’m crafting has all kinds of fun stuff in it. Secret messages. Escapes on dirigibles; a gunfight in a snowstorm. I’ve been honing my knowledge of mystery and spy fiction in preparation for writing this book The works of Eric Ambler, though not read a lot these days, ought to be read more often. Helen McInness, the same. “Above Suspicion,” and “Assignment Brittany” were two of my favorites. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the fascists get their asses kicked, one way or another in her wartime novels. As is right and should be.

 

Forward Momentum

 

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Steamer B. S. Ford

Forward momentum, as one of my favorite fiction characters says, is vital. I’m happy to say that this morning I passed 30,000 words in my historical fiction manuscript.

The adventure and suspense builds as my characters ride the steamer B. S. Ford from Queenstown to Baltimore, arriving on a very cold December night after a harrowing journey that began on a dirigible departing New York City, landing at Cape May, New Jersey, and then enduring a grueling steamer passage across the mouth of the Delaware Bay in a snow storm.

Maritime historian Jack Schaum wrote about the B. S. Ford in an article a few years ago. She was a handsome vessel, one that I’d have loved to experience as a passenger.

Here’s a link to Mr. Schaum’s article

Adventure Fiction Writing

 

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Electric Cabs in New York Photo from the Museum of the City of New York

 

I’m having great fun writing an adventure novel set in 1897. It was such an interesting time when technology was starting to serve more people in more inventive ways. The telephone, for instance. The horseless carriages was being used as taxi cabs in New York city, powered by eleictricity!

Researching the background for the story, I’ve been learning many fascinating details. For instance, the great steamship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the first of the four funnel luxury liners, was decorated with art throughout, including friezes that were made of colored, pressed plastic-like material.

I was also amazed that the spy camera had already been invented by then, using rolls of film that were cut down the middle from the roll film used in the Kodak early box camera!

(Electric Cabs in New York Photo from the Museum of the City of New York)