Judge Harkavy (pronounced HARK‑a‑vee), who died on Sunday at 84, was known for common‑sense solutions to juridical arcana.
In 1985, he dismissed charges against a Korean‑American greengrocer whose store had been looted after he left it unlocked upon being taken into custody by the police after squabbling with a customer. The judge said the dispute had apparently grown out of a misunderstanding and that the grocer's embarrassment was punishment enough.
In 2002, Judge Harkavy removed the operators of an adult home for the mentally ill in Brooklyn after a series of articles in The New York Times found neglect and malfeasance. In 2007, he ruled for the Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish movement's central organization in a highly charged dispute with a messianic group over control of the movement's headquarters in Brooklyn.
But he was best known for his sentencing, on Dec. 7, 1987, of Morris Gross of Brighton Beach to 15 days in the six‑story building Mr. Gross owned at 320 Sterling Street in what is now called Prospect‑Lefferts Gardens for failing to address more than 400 housing code violations.
Commenting on the case, Lawrence P. Cartelli, a lawyer for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said, "This building is an example of the type of situation where a landlord buys a building and bleeds it."
Abraham Biderman, New York's housing commissioner at the time, said that no landlord in the city had received such a sentence before. A spokesman said this week that the department knew of none that had been handed down since.
When Mr. Gross arrived at the building on Feb. 12, 1988, to begin serving his sentence in a freshly plastered and painted apartment, he was met by jeering tenants and a banner in the lobby that read, "Welcome, you reptile" He was fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet, accompanied full-time by two guards and wore sunglasses despite gloomy skies.
"He was trying to hide his face," Rubiela Rodriguez, a tenant, said. "When he came to collect the rent, he didn't hide his face."
Judge Harkavy fined Mr. Gross $32,000 for contempt of court and ordered him to pay $137,900 in civil penalties, which he could use to improve the building after serving his sentence.
The punishment proved effective. Mr. Gross dispatched construction crews to make repairs, and most of the violations were fixed within a month of his release, eight days early for good behavior. He vowed to do no more harm.
"I've retired from the real estate business," he said.
In 1992, the city seized the property for unpaid taxes, but a plan to let a tenants' group lease it until renters could buy their units as co‑ops did not work out. The city later took the building back and converted it into rent-stabilized apartments. (A one-bedroom unit went for $1,350 a month in 2013, with a cap on how much tenants could earn.)
Judge Harkavy died of cardiac arrest at a nursing home in Old Bridge, N.J., his son Elliot said. He is also survived by his wife, Roberta; two other sons, Steven and Daniel; and six grandchildren.
Ira Baer Harkavy was born in Brooklyn on April 13, 1931. His father, Morris, was the chief engineer for the Borough of Queens. His mother, Esther, did not work outside the home. He graduated from Brooklyn College and Columbia Law School.
After serving as chairman of a local community board, he was elected to the Civil Court in 1981, appointed as an acting State Supreme Court justice in 1992 and elected to the State Supreme Court in 2000. He retired at the end of 2007.
Mr. Gross's case inspired a 1991 film, "The Super," starring Joe Pesci as an unscrupulous landlord, Louie Kritski, who is ordered to spend 120 days in his own building. Even the rats snub him initially.
"Maybe," one tenant says, "they're avoiding your floor out of professional courtesy."
By SAM ROBERTS
Friday, May 22, 2015
p. B14, col. 4