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Harold Herman Greene

Thursday, February 3, 2000; Page A22

THOUGH HE came to national fame for presiding over one of the most far-reaching, complex cases in the country's history--the breakup of AT&T--Judge Harold H. Greene had been known in Washington for a good 20 years before as an exceptional jurist and compassionate believer in due process. Judge Greene, who died here Saturday at the age of 76, was justifiably proud of his hard work on the bench and his earlier contributions as a young lawyer under Attorney General Robert Kennedy in creating civil rights legislation. But he was especially proud of his transformation of a chaotic, demoralized local police court into the D.C. Superior Court that today serves as a state trial court for the District.

Harold Greene, born in Germany, escaped with his family from the Nazis, moving through four countries before reaching the United States in 1943. After two years of night school at George Washington University he went on to law school. At the Justice Department, he was regarded as a principal architect of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When President Johnson appointed him to the local court in 1965 and named him chief judge a year later, Judge Greene immersed himself in a reform mission so thorough that it melted opposition on Capitol Hill to legislation creating Superior Court. He also earned a reputation as a brilliant, thorough and gentle trial judge.

In 1978, President Carter appointed him to the U.S. District Court here, where AT&T was among the first matters to come before him. The government's position that AT&T was using profits from its monopoly on local telephone service to suppress competition in long-distance service was not widely popular. "I didn't know how it was going to come out," Judge Greene recalled, adding that he never did decide the case on its merits. What he did was make the two sides stipulate points of agreement, which helped lead to a settlement that the judge eventually approved. "It's not the sort of thing I want written on my tombstone," he said, "for it's not the only thing I ever did in life."

Hardly. With extraordinary energy, intelligence and warmth, Judge Greene engineered the delivery to this city of a significant component of local self-government. That, given his unwavering belief in full citizenship for the people of Washington, is a most special legacy.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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