HARTFORD, Conn. >> Attorney Morton Katz, 99, recalls just one client assigned to him as a special public defender who made an issue of his age.
That man, charged with stealing a car while on probation, was unhappy about how long it was taking to resolve his case.
“He wrote me the most vicious letters,” Katz said. “The mildest one began, you senile old son of a — well I won’t quote all the language he used, but it got pretty violent.”
Katz became a lawyer in 1951, after serving in World War II, and continues working on a contract basis with the state of Connecticut as a special public defender. He does almost all of his work in person and over the phone, rather than using computers, but he impresses far younger colleagues with his sharpness of mind and recall of detail. And he has no plans to retire.
“I like what I’m doing. I wouldn’t know what to do if I weren’t practicing law,” he said.
Katz, of Avon, was born on May 15, 1919. He graduated from Connecticut State College, the school that became the University of Connecticut, and saw action in World War II in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany before attending law school at UConn.
Superior Court Judge Omar Williams said Katz is asked to handle very difficult cases with tough defendants, and is very good at what he does.
“Obviously, it’s amazing that there is someone who is 99 years old who is still working in this field,” Williams said. “But to be putting out that type of work product, to be every bit a persuasive advocate — it’s absolutely incredible.”
David Warner, the supervisory public defender in Hartford, said nobody that he knows of has ever questioned Katz’s competence to practice law.
“He tells some amazing stories about his career, about the war,” Warner said. “I thought he was joking when he first told me his age. You’d never know it from talking to him.”
As a special public defender, Katz is paid $350 per case, no matter how much work he puts in, unless the case goes to trial, and then he gets an hourly wage. Katz also serves as a magistrate for small claims cases, does free legal work on civil cases for Statewide Legal Services and provides free legal assistance to veterans.
He dedicated himself to public service after an uncle, who put Katz through college, refused his offer to pay him back.
“He said, ‘No, what you will do is find someone else who needs your help, and you will help them,’” Katz said. “It just hit me that that was the right thing to do.”
Katz said he plans to end his legal career “when they carry me out of here.”