Editorial: Jacob 'Jack' D. Zeldes, 1930-2013
When Jack Zeldes walked into the room, things seemed to brighten up. Even if you were his opponent, Jack's presence itself was enough to enliven the occasion. He was respected by judges, and he was loved by his colleagues. His passing has brought sadness to Connecticut's legal community. He was, purely and simply, the best among us.
Jack was never a member of the trial bar's Big Personality Section. He never sought media recognition or celebrity status. His unwavering goal was simply to be an effective advocate. In the words of his friend and partner, Charles Needle: "No matter who the client was, Jack was always able to see the best side of any person in order to obtain the best possible result."
Those results were colossal. At an early stage in his fabled career, Jack won two cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. The first struck down the Federal Wagering Tax as a violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; the second invalidated the Connecticut standard for the inadmissibility of confessions in criminal cases. (He began representing the defendant in the latter case while he was a student at Yale Law School and serving as head of the Public Defenders program.) For over four decades, Jack Zeldes was the go-to lawyer for those needing the most skilled representation in the most daunting conflicts.
In 1971, Jack became one of the original founders of the distinguished firm of Zeldes, Needle & Cooper in Bridgeport. He was the firm's guiding force, setting the highest standards of professional skills and ethics. Under his leadership, ZNC quickly became one of Connecticut's leading litigation firms. In 1983, he was chosen by the Connecticut House of Representatives to represent its Select Committee in the first impeachment proceeding ever initiated against a Connecticut judge. Jack's reputation for integrity caused him to be chosen as the lead plaintiff in Jacob D. Zeldes v. M. Jodi Rell, a 2009 class action lawsuit that led to then-Governor M. Jodi Rell's abandonment of an attempt to seize $2 million from the Client Security Fund and transfer it to the General Fund.
To Jack's family, whom he loved above all, the Connecticut legal profession shares your loss. And Jack, from all of us, well done. You will be missed.