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PHILIP BERNS(1933 - 2013)

PHILIP BERNS Philip A. Berns, 80, passed away Oct. 5, 2013, at his home in Henderson. The longtime head of the San Francisco Field Office of the U.S. Department of Justices Admiralty and Aviation section, Phil Berns worked for the department for 44 years and was the lead attorney on some of the agency's most high-profile cases of recent decades, including the Exxon Valdez and Argo Merchant. His role models included Supreme Court Justices Felix Frankfurter and Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Borscht Belt comedians Shecky Greene and Buddy Hackett. He could instantly recall maritime-related legal citations and Borscht Belt jokes that would have made Mel Brooks chuckle. Berns knew that a good piece of fish was a gift from the oceans he loved, and that the very best flavor in a shank of beef was found in the marrow. He loved Broadway musicals, a good Chinese restaurant and Fred Astaire albums. "You could hear him sing and dance." Berns was a skilled political cartoonist in his spare time, routinely spoofing anyone he considered to be disingenuous. When asked in his final days whether he was comfortable, Berns paused for a three count and cited one of his favorite lines: "I make a living." Born Philip Allan Bernstein, March 18, 1933, and, despite nearly 35 years on the west coast, he never entirely left New York, either in accent or attitude. He attended New York State Maritime Academy on a scholarship and graduated in 1955 with a third mate's license, after which he immediately signed up for the U.S. Navy. Lt. Berns served as executive officer of USS Chadron (PC 564) from 1955 to 1957, after which he left the U.S. Navy to begin the journey that became his passion, maritime law. He attended NYU Law School on a scholarship in 1957 and 1958. He attended Brooklyn Law School on a New York State Korean War Veteran's Scholarship, graduating in June 1960, and attended NYU Graduate Law School on a New York State Korean War Veteran's Scholarship in 1960 and 1961. Berns joined the U.S. Justice Department in 1960, serving as an attorney within the agency's section before serving as the section's Attorney in Charge from 1971-1977. In 1978, Berns moved to the west coast to head the San Francisco Field Office of the Department of Justice's Admiralty and Aviation Section, successor to the admiralty and shipping section. He held the position until his retirement in 2005. He is survived by his wife, of 54 years, Jane; their three sons, David, Peter and Jay; daughters-in-law, Debbie and Deann; and grandchildren, Asia, Brittney and Ty. Memorial services will be at noon today, Thursday, Oct. 10, at Temple N'er Tamid, 55 N. Valle Verde Drive, Henderson. The family requests that donations in Phil's memory be made to the Sallyport Fund of the State University of New York Maritime College, 6 Pennyfield Ave., Throggs Neck, NY,10465.


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