Former Yale Law School dean, scholar dies at 80

Former Yale Law School dean and influential criminal law scholar Abraham Goldstein LAW ’49 died of a heart attack at his home in Woodbridge on Sunday. He was 80.

Goldstein was dean in the 1970s and worked to unite faculty and students during a highly political time. He served one five-year term as dean, then returned to his role as a professor, receiving the Sterling Professorship, the University’s highest academic honor.

“Abe Goldstein was the dean of the school during a difficult and trying period, and managed very effectively to keep the peace and to hold the school together with a divided faculty and a divided student body, which was an achievement that his colleagues were grateful for,” said law professor Anthony Kronman, who stepped down as dean of the Law School in 2003. “I am very much indebted to him for his counsel and wisdom, and I have never stopped thinking of him as my dean.”

Goldstein was a trial lawyer in Washington, D.C. before joining the Yale faculty where he taught for nearly 50 years. An expert in criminal law and procedure, Goldstein drew on his experience in private practice to provide seminal scholarship in the field of criminal law.

“He was ultimately not concerned with theory,” said Kate Stith, a professor of criminal law. “He sought to understand the impact of criminal law in real courtrooms and in the real world, his analytical approach was rigorous and also balanced without rhetorical or ideological excess, and his writing style was unusual in the legal academy. His law review articles are now classics in their fields.”

Goldstein’s first article argued that conspiracy law is in many ways inconsistent with many other aspects of our common law tradition. He wrote that conspiracy law had been broadened in recent decades beyond its justifiable limitations. His next article, which concluded that the “balance of advantage” lay with the prosecution, presaged the changes that the Warren Court would make in the balance of the trial.

“His work was path-breaking when published, and each became a seminal work in the area, by which I mean the book or article spawned an immense work and scholarship including many subsequent books by his former students at Yale Law School,” Stith said.

Goldstein grew up the fourth child of Ukrainian immigrants. His father sold fruits and vegetables from a pushcart on New York’s Lower East Side, and the family spoke only Yiddish at home.

He earned a degree in economics at City College of New York and then joined the U.S. Army, serving as a demolitions specialist and counterintelligence agent in Europe. Goldstein attended Yale Law School under the G.I. Bill.

Goldstein clerked for Judge David Bazelon on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and spent his next five years as a partner at the Washington firm Donohue and Kaufmann. At the firm he worked on complex civil and criminal litigation, at one point representing a man on U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s list of alleged communists at the State Department.

“Abe Goldstein was a path-breaking criminal law scholar who understood the underbelly of our justice system, and a courageous leader during a difficult time for our school,” Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh said.

Kronman said he sought Goldstein’s advice during his own tenure as dean.

“I very often went up to Abe’s office on the third floor, knocked on the door, sat down and spread out for Abe some knotty problem that I was wrestling with,” he said. “His advice was unfailingly sound. Even when his recommendation was to do something other than what I wanted to do, I recognized immediately that his proposed solution was the superior one.”

Goldstein is survived by his second wife, Sarah Poleyeff Goldstein, his two children, a brother, three stepdaughters and six grandchildren. His first wife, Ruth Tessler Goldstein, died in 1989 after 41 years of marriage.

A memorial service will be held Nov. 6 at 2:30 p.m. in the Law School Auditorium.

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