Lawrence McKenna, New York Judge in High-Profile Cases, Dies at 89

Lawrence M. McKenna, a federal judge who in presiding over many high-profile cases in Manhattan rejected two of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s police initiatives as infringing on civil liberties, died on Feb. 3 in Brooklyn. He was 89.

His death, in a hospice, was confirmed by his son Robert.

Judge McKenna, who was appointed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, handed down both decisions against the Giuliani administration in 2001, a year before he retired from active service and received senior status.

In one case, he ordered the New York City Police Department to stop its newly instituted policy of ejecting homeless people from the steps of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, at West 55th Street, where, with the church’s blessing, 20 to 30 people had been allowed to spend the nights for years. The church had been trying to coax the homeless into treatment programs.

City lawyers claimed that the church was operating an illegal shelter. But the judge, while banning people from sleeping on the adjacent sidewalk, concurred with the New York Civil Liberties Union and with church officials that ejecting them from the steps violated the church’s First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

In another case, Judge McKenna barred the Giuliani administration from requiring that vendors of art and books in city parks apply for permits.

While Judge McKenna didn’t specifically cite the Constitution in that case, he quoted earlier rulings invoking the city code, which unconditionally prohibits mandatory licensing for those who sell art and books in parks or on adjacent sidewalks.

In another case that made headlines, Judge McKenna in 2002 revoked the citizenship of Jack Reimer, an 83-year-old retired Brooklyn businessman who acknowledged that he had participated in the Nazi persecution of Jews during World War II.

Mr. Reimer denied any role in atrocities and said he had worked in an office of a Nazi SS training camp for guards in Trawniki, Poland. But the judge found that Mr. Reimer was armed and present when his unit of mostly former Soviet prisoners of war assisted the SS in the killing of Jews in 1941.

Judge McKenna found that prosecutors had proved “by clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence” that the Trawniki men, as the guards came to be known, had “actively participated” in the liquidation of the Jewish ghettos in Czestochowa and Warsaw, and that Mr. Reimer had played a supporting role.

Judge McKenna’s ruling culminated a 10-year legal battle. In 2005, Mr. Reimer agreed to leave for Germany, but he died before he could be deported.

During the 1990s, Judge McKenna presided over a case against corrupt police officers in a Harlem precinct and a trial that cleared the boxing promoter Don King of fraud charges. And he ruled in favor of typographers at The Daily News and pressmen at The New York Times, who said management was trying to reduce staffing in violation of their contracts. 

In 2009, Judge McKenna denied the government’s request to revoke bail for the disgraced financier Bernard L. Madoff. He upheld a magistrate’s ruling confining Mr. Madoff to his Manhattan apartment under 24-hour guard. Both Mr. Madoff and his wife had to surrender their passports.

“Judge McKenna exhibited a kind of judging that has become increasingly rare in today’s world,” Steven M. Cohen, who appeared before him as an assistant United States attorney, said by email.

“He was a Republican — close to a libertarian — but in my dealings with him I never saw a hint of ideology,” Mr. Cohen said. Judge McKenna, he added, “gave every defendant his or her due (and then some) and approached every case and every litigant without a hint of bias.”

Lawrence Michael McKenna was born on Nov. 7, 1933, in Manhattan and grew up in the Douglaston section of Queens, raised by his mother, Catherine (Brosnan) McKenna, a model, after his father, also Lawrence, an assistant district attorney, died when the boy was young.

After graduating from Regis High School in Manhattan, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fordham College in 1956 and a law degree from Columbia Law School in 1959.

He practiced at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett from 1959 to 1969 and at Wormser, Kiely, Alessandroni, Hyde & McCann from 1969 to 1990.

In addition to his son Robert, from his marriage to Marie McEwen, who died in the late 1990s, Judge McKenna is survived by three other children from that marriage, Lawrence Jr., Nora and Arthur. He is also survived by a sister, Catharine, and five grandchildren. His second wife, Anita Favata, died in 2006, and his brother, Christopher, also died.

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