Peter L. Zimroth ’63, New York Attorney Dedicated to Public Service

Peter L. Zimroth ’63 was a lifelong New Yorker and an attorney who worked for the betterment of his city. As NYC’s chief legal officer, he drafted a public campaign financing law that became a model for other municipalities, and as a court-appointed monitor he oversaw reforms in the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy without a consequent increase in crime.

Zimroth, who was a partner with the firm of Arnold & Porter for 25 years and a founding director of the Center on Civil Justice at NYU Law, died on November 7, 2021. The Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at NYU Law has been renamed in his honor.

“Peter was a brilliant lawyer dedicated to public service and to this institution, as well as a beloved colleague and friend,” said NYU Law Dean Trevor Morrison. “His legacy will endure through both the work he did during his lifetime and the ongoing mission of the center named in his honor.”

Zimroth, who was married to actress Estelle Parsons, served as New York City’s chief legal officer under Mayor Ed Koch 1987–89, during which time he fought bias against women, who frequently were denied admittance to private clubs. He also was instrumental in the creation of the city’s voluntary system of public campaign financing, a model that was adopted by many other local governments.

Later in his career, Zimroth was appointed by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Federal District Court in New York to oversee reforms in the NYPD’s stop-question-and-frisk crime-control strategy. The stops were found to disproportionately single out Black and Hispanic New Yorkers, which Scheindlin called a “policy of indirect racial profiling.” While she elected not to halt the tactic, she chose Zimroth to monitor racial disparities in the number of stops as well as reforms in the department’s training and procedures. He served in that role 2013–20.

“He was a superb lawyer and wonderful colleague for whom intellectual honesty always informed his advocacy positions,” Richard D. Emery, a prominent civil liberties lawyer, told The New York Times. “He was fair, balanced and superbly articulate for his causes.”

Zimroth was born on January 11, 1943, and raised in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. He recalled watching Jackie Robinson, the first Black baseball player in the major leagues, on TV with his grandfather, who urged him to fight injustice wherever he found it. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln H.S. at 16 and attended Yale Law, where he was editor of The Yale Law Journal before graduating in 1966.

Zimroth clerked for Judge David L. Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and for U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas. He taught at NYU Law, served as an assistant federal prosecutor in Manhattan and as chief assistant to longtime Manhattan district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau before joining Arnold & Porter in 1990.

“I’ve been a prosecutor, a defense lawyer, a teacher; I’ve been an administrator,” he told the Times in 1987. “And I really feel very strongly about using the law as an instrument for social good. That’s why I became a lawyer.”

In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1983, Zimroth is survived by his son, Abraham; stepdaughters, Martha Gehman and Abbie Britton; sister, Alice Kelly; four grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

— Alex Sachare ’71