The Miami News
March 3, 1980
Federal prosecutor Jack Eskenazi dies while raking leaves
Patrice Gaines-Carter and Bill Gjebre
Miami News Reporter
A neighbor answered her doorbell yesterday and found U. S. Attorney Jacob (Jack) Eskenazi’s children, Joey, 13, and Stacy, 10, outside. “They said their Daddy had fallen,” she related. Eskenazi, 47, suffered an apparent heart attack while raking leaves at his home at 433 Daroco Ave. in Coral Gables. As the neighbor ran out toward the unconscious Eskenazi, a half dozen others met her. A Metro fire rescue unit took him to Doctors Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:37 p.m.
The sudden death of the chief federal prosecutor for southern Florida took Miami’s judicial community by surprise.
“Nobody ever thought anything like this would happen. We’re all shocked,” Jon Sale, Eskenazi’s top assistant, said.
Sale said U.S. District Court judges from the Southern District will choose a temporary replacement until President Carter names a new judge, based on a recommendation from the state’s senators.
Eskenazi was born in Miami on Sept. 10, 1932, the son of a barber who immigrated from Turkey. He joined the Navy, then received a bachelor of arts degree from Tulane University and a law degree from the University of Florida. He was an FBI agent in training in 1963 when he met his wife, Elaine, a secretary at the FBI headquarters in Washington. He returned to Miami to join the staff of then – state attorney Richard Gerstein. Next he worked on the U.S. Attorney’s staff, was appointed head of the public defender’s office for Southern Florida, became a federal magistrate for the district, then received the U.S. Attorney appointment.
Eskenazi was trim and active, a former Miami Senior High School football player who often jogged with his children on the tracks at the University of Miami.
Bob Rust, who was U.S. Attorney prior to Eskenazi, said, “I spoke at a luncheon for FBI retirees Friday and I heard some of the agents say he was in the hospital with chronic back problems.” Palermo described the chief prosecutor as “a shy, very private person. A highly talented, very honest man.” Miami attorney Neal Sonnett was as shocked as others. “He had a background of high blood pressure and there was a history of heart trouble in his family. There were major cases we prosecuted together and he had bouts with high blood pressure,” said Sonnett, who was Eskenazi’s trial partner at the U.S. Attorney’s Office from 1967 to 1971.
In 1978 after Eskenazi had been chief prosecutor for 18 months, criminal indictments dropped one-third. Critics said he was too cautious. Members of the House Select Committee on Narcotics urged the White House to get an outside prosecutor to crack down on drug-smuggling in Florida. But others thought Eskenazi was courageous for not taking “weak cases”. His boss, U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti defended him, too. No one disputed his integrity and reputation for fairness. One person who criticized his record said, “He may be the most honest and non-political man I’ve ever met in my life.”
Eskenazi was appointed by President Carter in 1977, after a non-partisan committee included his name in four nominees given to Senators Lawton Chiles and Richard Stone of Florida. He was always proud that the senators who had supported him never met him prior to his nomination. Stone learned of the death when The Miami News called his Washington, D.C., home. “What?” he exclaimed, “I was just talking to him Friday. I am really shocked. “I never met him personally. I picked him on his merits. He was an extremely competent attorney and prosecutor who always treated people fairly and without prejudice. I never had any complaints about him.”
“I don’t know how a replacement will be chosen,” Chiles said upon hearing of the death. “We used a panel before, but we may change the procedure.”
In addition to his wife and two children, Eskenazi is survived by a sister, Loraine Kurland of Miami, and a brother, Dr. Albert Eskenazi of Lakeland. Funeral arrangements, being handled by Riverside Memorial Chapel, 1717 SW 37th Ave., were incomplete.