Michael Rothenberg, Brooklyn Heights Resident and Public Interest Lawyer, Dies at 47

Michael Rothenberg, Clark Street resident, lawyer, and advocate for social justice, died yesterday.

New York Law Journal: Michael Rothenberg, 47, the executive director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, died on Feb. 23. Mr. Rothenberg was suffering from depression and took his own life. His body was found on the fourth-floor terrace of a 33-story building at 100 Jay St. in Brooklyn and he was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the New York City Police Department.

The Law Journal article quotes NYPLI chairwoman Shelley Dropkin:

“He was an inspirational leader, a colleague, a mentor, to so many on his staff who have gone on to do great things,” she said. “He was a spectacular manager. He was wise and kind and good and I am dealing with a board that is just so heartbroken because they personally admired him so much.”

Among his many professional accomplishments, he served on the Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services, which sought to improve delivery of service in civil matters to people who could not afford it. In an interview with the Law Journal’s Daniel Wise published last September, he told how his interest in this matter began with his parents’ struggle, despite being well-educated and relatively affluent, to provide for his developmentally disabled brother.

He is survived by his wife Zerline Goodman, their children, Brice, Garon and Zaya Rothenberg, his mother Eleanor and his brothers David and Seth. His funeral was held on Sunday at Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, with the family’s rabbi officiating. He was interred yesterday at Vassar Temple Cemetery, LaGrange Avenue Extension, Poughkeepsie.

NOTE: this has been a developing story. We have modified our post from time to time to reflect the facts in what is in our judgment the most accurate and respectful way.

Photo: NYU Law School

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  • Freddie

    So sad to see someone so young pass away. My heart is with his family

  • Knight

    Agreed, Freddie, especially someone who was so dedicated to the public interest and who had so much more to give. No cause of death is mentioned here; I hope he didn’t suffer at all. May he rest in peace.

  • PJB

    If you would actually read the full article in the Brooklyn Eagle, many of your questions wouldl be answered.
    Michael was a good friend, loving husband and father. Our prayers are with Zerline and her children.
    The funeral will be held at Plymouth Church on Sunday, February 26 at 3pm.

  • Precious

    My heart is so heavy. My condolences to Zerline and family. Michael will be missed.

  • PJB

    Here is the link to the full article in the Brooklyn Eagle.
    Sorry for not including it in my original post.

  • Steve R.

    As a long time Hts resident & ex squash player, I met Michael a couple of times and had the good fortune to briefly talk to him about public policy and housing. An impressive person who will no doubt be missed by many. My condolences to Zerline and family.

  • Ex-Heighster

    My condolences.

    (However, the Rockefeller foundations, like the family itself, is highly questionable on many fronts.)

  • Friend and Neighbor

    Thanks for all these apt comments. For future posts, please be aware and sensitive to the fact that a FATHER has died here, and tragically. Keep in mind that your thoughts and comments will be viewable to anyone searching for information about Michael in the months and years to come. Our community is like a small town – we should always hold each other up and give support. Let’s just all keep in mind, first and foremost, the interest of children grieving their beloved dad.

  • Ronni

    I am devastated by the news of Michael’s death. We worked closely as a team in PS 29 where his older daughter and both my children attended elementary school. He was a kind, gentle man who I will miss seeing around the neighborhood.

  • Mike

    A tragic loss for our neighborhood and for the broader community he so selflessly and effectively served. God bless him and his family, and may we all rededicate ourselves to the many worthy causes he championed.

  • P.S.08 family

    You were a gift to the entire P.S.08 community. Your friendship, dedication and wisdom will forever be missed. We thank you for all that you have done.
    Our condolences go out to Zerline and the children.

  • Heightser

    This news is so unimaginably tragic. Michael was truly one of the good guys. He always made time for you, to stop and chat on a corner. He took a chance on PS8 before anyone else did, and then worked so hard on making it the great place it is now. His leadership was inspiring. It was an honor to have known him.

  • nabeguy

    Heartbreaking. I saw a post on Precious Jones’s FB page, but didn’t make the connection until I saw this picture. As a fellow PS 8 dad, I always knew Michael to be one of the most engaged, and engaging, parents at the school. He always had a smile and a kind word for children and parents alike.
    My most heartfelt condolences to his friends and family…your loss is shared by many in community. RIP Michael.

  • Migs

    I worked as an Office Assistant at NYLPI where he was Executive Director. I hadn’t seen him in a while but when I heard the news on Friday I had to pull over onto the side of the road. This is still hurtful to me because I had a good working relationship with Michael. He was a great person and a wonderful crusader to his cause. My heart goes out to his family, friends, and the entire NYLPI organization past and present. We love you Michael.

  • Nyblues

    I also worked for Michael. He was an amazing person. When I first saw the news on CIDNY’s facebook I thought it was a mistake. Michael loved his family very much, his kids were his adoration. I pray that they be reminded of this in the year’s to come and that they may find peace and comfort in our Lord and Saviour. I can only imagine what our colleagues at the NYLPI office must be feeling. The thought of the corner office being empty and without hearing Michael’s laughter is heartbreaking. Zerline, Brice, Garon, and Zaya, you are in our prayers.

  • Rahul Sharma

    Michael spoke at NYU when I was a 1L on a panel about public interest law. He was by far the most eloquent and charismatic person in the room — afterwards I asked him if I could be an intern at NYLPI, and he said yes (not knowing, perhaps, that he was doing me a huge favor, since I was too green to be at all useful as an intern). I can’t begin to say how much Michael inspired me, and what a terrific guy he was. This is just an awful, awful loss.

  • Norwood Beveridge

    Mike’s passing was unexpected and sad – we cut short a family vacation to make it back for his service as would anyone who had the privilege of knowing him and his family. His wonderful combination of piercing legal intellect, infectious wit and non-confrontational persistence will be missed by everyone his life touched, from the underserved communities which benefitted from his legal work to those most close to him. Rest in peace Michael

  • GHB

    I didn’t know Michael, but saw him regularly around Clark Street, often with his kids. Very sorry to hear of his loss. My condolences to his family.

  • Daniel Abrahamson

    I, too, was a law school classmate of Michael’s. Early on he established himself as one of the smartest people in the class. But, more importantly, he quickly became one of the most outspoken advocates for public service and fiercest voices for the marginalized and dispossessed. He was a mentor to me (and many others) in the classroom (my passing grade in contracts is largely his doing), in the job market (I repeatedly consulted him about internship and career opportunities), and on the squash court – a game to which he introduced me and gave me his old racquet so that I had no excuse but to get out of the library and into the gym. I have tried to incorporate his work, exercise and play ethic into life beyond law school and often visualize the high bar he set in all realms when pushing myself to do better. He was and will remain an inspiration.

  • Zorg

    The Brooklyn Eagle story says “apparently fell,” not “apparently jumped,” as transcribed here.

  • http://loscalzo.posterous.com Homer Fink

    @Zorg – That is an unexplained change the paper decided to make. We are obtaining the original police report.

  • Linda Cronin-Gross

    This is so shocking. My company provided public relations and media services for NYLPI for about 6 years. Michael really grew that organization tremendously and spent a lot of time finding the money and person power to keep it up, running, and expanding. I enjoyed all my talks with him. He gave the attorneys a lot of room to tackle cases in the way they wanted to, and made sure that had a lot of support – including training in pr and help getting word to the media. He was charming, charismatic, very funny, and one of the most dedicated public advocates I’ve ever met. Although I hadn’t seen him in a few years, it now seems like just yesterday we were chatting. Such a loss…so glad to have known him. Sending heartfelt condolences to his wife and children and all the NYLPI staff.

  • PJB
  • Hamilton College Friend

    Michael was a witty and funny guy in college. A fierce competitor on the squash court with a sense of purpose in everything he did. As a young man, he had a great sense of humor, sharp wit and tremendous focus. I heard the news through a mutual Hamilton College friend and we are all deeply saddened over his untimely passing. May he memory be a blessing to his family.

  • C Callaghan

    I didnt know Michael well, in fact i havent seen him in 15 yrs or so, since i used to play squash on a regular basis. He was one of the nicest guys ive ever met, this news really struck a chord with me. My condolences to his family. For a guy that had so much going for him he was so humble. I remember once someone calling him a renaissance man. You couldnt put it any better.

  • Jay Leslie

    I just learned of Michael’s passing last night. Michael and I met in 1995 when he hired me as an intern at Vera. We stayed in touch since then and met for lunch fairly regular until I left NYC in 2010. Michael had a great sense of humor and was one of the kindest and most dedicated people I’ve known. He was a great manager, mentor and friend, and I’ll miss him tremendously. My condolences to Zerline, Brice, Garon and Zaya.

  • Jessie Leaman

    I learned of Mike’s passing last night, at the Stuyvesant 1982 class reunion. We wish he could have been there with us. Our deep condolences to all.