Thinking About the Other Fella is part biography and part anthology. “Sort of an Avern Cohn compendium,” Jack Lessenberry said.
Judge Avern Cohn was celebrated by family, friends and colleagues on Friday, Nov. 5, at Franklin Hills Country Club for the launch of his book, Thinking About the Other Fella: Avern Cohn’s Life and the Law, written by Jack Lessenberry and Elizabeth Zerwekh.
Judge Cohn served on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan from 1979-2019. When he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, he was the only Jewish judge on that court.
Cohn’s many volunteer roles in the Jewish community include serving as president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, 1981-1983. He has also been a supporter of Jewish education, including Orthodox day schools. Like his father, Avern Cohn was awarded Federation’s Fred M. Butzel Award for distinguished community service.
Lessenberry had followed the judge and had been interested in his career for some years and, when he retired, he suggested to Cohn that they do a biography.
His response was an immediate and unequivocal “NO!” Cohn said there were too many judges with biographies and autobiographies out there, and that he didn’t think he was anything special. “I just want to be remembered as a good judge,” he said.
Lessenberry appealed, feeling passionate about many of Cohn’s court rulings.
“Eventually, we hammered out a compromise, and I think that, in fact, what we produced is better than what a biography would have been,” Lessenberry said.
Thinking About the Other Fella is part biography and part anthology. “Sort of an Avern Cohn compendium,” Lessenberry said.
The book includes biographical sketches and articles written about the judge, as well as a rigorous examination of a dozen or so of his most important cases, done by Lessenberry.
There is also a wide selection of Cohn’s own writing on legal and especially historical subjects, which Lessenberry believes readers will find fascinating.
“The title comes from something Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said was his legal philosophy — “You have to think about the other fella,” meaning that a good judge has to be able to put himself or herself in the place of those standing before you, to have empathy for them — not necessarily sympathy, but empathy,” Lessenberry explained. “That, I think, is the hallmark of Avern Cohn’s career.”
In Cohn’s speech, he thanked everyone who helped him along the way, including his wife, Lois, Lessenberry and Zerwekh, and all his staff over the years. “Behind every federal judge, there is a good staff,” Cohn said.
A copy of the book was made available for each of the attendees, with Cohn signing the inside of each one.
“The book is a collation of all that reflects my career,” Cohn said. “I must also tell you how flattered I am having my own book. I have lived with books all my life. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, he once said, ‘What shall I do with all of my books if they cannot be my friends, let them at least be my acquaintances, if they cannot enter the circle of my life, I will not deny them at least a nod of recognition.’ I hope to each of you the book will be a friend.”