Bruce A. Kaufman, 50, called a 'leading light in family law'

September 07, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Bruce A. Kaufman, "the dean of family law" who was recently elected chairman of the American Bar Association's family law section, died Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of cancer. He was 50.

"He was one of the leading lights in family law, a great lawyer, but, better than that, he was a great person," said Judge Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, who knew Kaufman for many years.

Kaufman of Chevy Chase was a Baltimore native who graduated from the University of Maryland Law School in 1972. He practiced divorce law and other forms of family law in Maryland for 25 years and served on the board of the House of Ruth, a shelter for battered women.

Kaufman had just won the chairmanship of the ABA's family law section -- a group of 11,000 attorneys -- when his cancer was diagnosed last month, said his law partner, Susan C. Elgin.

"He would be the nation's top attorney and expert on family matters," said Elgin, who, with lawyer Thomas C. Ries, joined practices with Kaufman in Towson last year.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II noted that Kaufman was relatively young for what he'd accomplished.

"He was 'the dean of family law' -- at 50, not 80," Fader said.

Jerome J. Shestack, president of the American Bar Association, yesterday described Kaufman as someone who "magnified our profession" and "understood the delicate and sensitive interplay human values and the law and worked to advance both of them."

Shestack and other colleagues said Kaufman was known for pursuing alternatives to rancorous courtroom battles by helping resolve divorce and custody cases through mediation.

"He had a very practical side to him. He understood that the ultimate issue was trying to resolve the clients' disputes," said Bell, who worked recently with Kaufman on the state's judicial compensation commission, which Kaufman chaired.

Fader, who teaches at the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore law schools, said Kaufman was involved in all aspects of educating lawyers about family law.

"There's nothing that goes across my desk that involves education that doesn't have 'Bruce A. Kaufman, esquire' on it," Fader said.

"I got a note the other day about a meeting of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. This is the best of the best. He's on the letterhead as president of the Maryland chapter," Fader said.

Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin, a Pennsylvania lawyer who preceded Kaufman as chairwoman of ABA's family law section, said Kaufman was particularly interested in making sure women lawyers were "recognized as equals" to men.

In his role as chairman of the ABA's family law section, she said, Kaufman also wanted to shed more light on the problems of domestic violence.

"He wanted to have programs to understand what people could do in their own community to protect victims of domestic violence," said Gold-Bikin.

Services will be today at 3 p.m. at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

He is survived by his wife of two years, the former Arlene I. Gudelsky of Chevy Chase; his mother, Bertha K. Bereston, his brother, Dr. Felix Kaufman, and daughter, Susie H. Kaufman, all of Baltimore; a stepdaughter, Iris M. Markel of Potomac; two stepsons, Michael Friedman of Nashville and Marc D. Friedman of Manchester, England; and seven grandchildren.

Contributions can be made in his memory to the House of Ruth, 2201 Argonne Drive, Baltimore 21218.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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