(1942 - 2019)
For those of you who weren't privileged enough to know him, Mike Koskoff loved the Inner Circle and his many friends who were such a huge part of his life and practice. He loved being President of the Inner Circle [2011-2013], and we enjoyed his many presentations that incorporated humor, insight, and an occasional quote from Shakespeare - a remnant of his formal theatrical training. He lived a life of passion for the right causes even those that were unpopular, and he used his words, whether in the courtroom or on the silver screen, as the most lethal of his persuasive arrows in his quiver.
Mike, a renowned and dogged Connecticut litigator who defended Black Panthers, won record malpractice awards, mounted racial job-discrimination battles, and helped sue gunmakers whose weapons were used in the Sandy Hook school massacre. In addition, in 2017 Mike collaborated with his son Jacob on the screenplay for "Marshall," a feature film about the 1941 trial of a black man accused or raping a white woman. At that trial, the defendant was represented by the then future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Mike was the scion of a family of performers who starred on disparate stages. Some were actors, singers, and musicians. (A cousin was Alfred Newman, the celebrated Hollywood composer.) Others were litigators who held forth in courtrooms. His father, Ted, was both his law partner and a cellist. "We're show people," Mike once explained. Mike won record settlements in Connecticut negligence and malpractice cases by coupling skills he had acquired in training to be a Shakespearean actor with a lifelong antagonism toward corporate greed. He also pioneered the use of vivid courtroom videos delivered in a documentary format.
In 1979, Mike persuaded a jury in Danbury to award his client $1.8 million in a wrongful-death case, Connecticut's first verdict of more than $1 million in such a suit. In 1999, jurors awarded $27 million for what Mike had demonstrated was a bungled heart operation at Yale-New Haven Hospital which left a 29-year-old man permanently blind and brain-damaged. At the time, it was the biggest personal injury verdict in the state's history. That same year, Mike was lead counsel in a class-action case against the state for illegal wiretapping of calls between clients and their lawyers which ended with a $17 million settlement.
In a medical malpractice case that became the subject of the book, "Damages: One Family's Legal Struggles in the World of Medicine" (1998) by Barry Werth, a couple represented by Mike settled for $6.25 million in the early 1990s, nine years after their baby, who had severe cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities, was born at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut. (The child's twin brother had been stillborn there.) In his book, the author described Mike's courtroom techniques as "raw theater. ... Koskoff liked to depend on his own 'visceral and instinctive reality' of what was happening in a courtroom - was a witness nervous? arrogant? appealing? unappealing? to decide how best to keep the drama fresh. ... He also liked to keep the other side's experts off balance by not letting them know what to expect of him. If he met them, he might like them, and that would dull his attack."
Mike had a huge heart. His son Josh told us, "Dad once lent a car he wasnt using to an acquaintance - not even a friend, just someone he knew who needed a car. He never saw the car again. Not only did my dad not report it to the police, but for years he paid the guys parking tickets."
Gratitude was Mike's religion: live with grace and kindness, persistence, generosity, and always whenever possible, with gratitude. For all of us who knew him, Mike's passing has left a deep void, but we will always cherish the memories he left us with. We are all better people and better lawyers for having had Mike as part of our life.