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Max David Steuer was one of the most effective American trial attorneys in the first half of the 20th century.
September 16, 1870|
|Died||August 21, 1940
Jackson, New Hampshire
|Alma mater||City College of New York, Columbia University Law School|
Steuer was born on September 16, 1870 (or 1871), in the town of Homino, then in Austria-Hungary (later Czechoslovakia). In 1876 he arrived in the United States with his father and mother. He attended the City College of New York from 1886 to 1889. He received his law degree from Columbia University in 1893 and was admitted to the New York state bar the same year.
Steuer married Bertha Popkin in 1897. The couple had three children: Aron, Ethel and Constance.
Steuer was active in Tammany Hall for many years, especially during the leadership of John F. Curry in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1938 he served as a delegate to the New York state constitutional convention.
Max Steuer died in Jackson, New Hampshire, on August 21, 1940.
While still in his twenties, Steuer earned a reputation as an effective advocate. He is best known for his trial work. Steuer represented some plaintiffs and in some cases was a prosecutor, but he made his name as counsel for the defense.
His first trial that gave him a national reputation was the defense of actor Raymond Hitchcock in 1908.
Steuer is best known today for his successful defense of the factory owners after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. In March 1911 a fire broke out on the eighth floor of the factory, and quickly spread to the ninth and tenth floors. The escape routes were locked or overcome by the fire. One hundred forty-six women, adolescent girls, and men lost their lives. Steuer defended the owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, against criminal charges arising from the fire and its circumstances. The two were acquitted. The acquittal is attributed to Steuer's cross-examination and impeachment of one of the surviving employees.
Steuer won acquittals in numerous cases which were notable at the time. Defendants who were acquitted included sports promoter Tex Rickard, banker Charles E. Mitchell and former Attorney General Harry Daugherty. Steuer, though a skillful litigator, also saw clients convicted, such as Maurice E. Connolly, or saw the loss of divorce cases, as the one for W.E.D. Stokes.
Working for the employers, Steuer negotiated the first significant collective bargaining agreements in the women's clothing industry.
Working as a prosecutor, Steuer won convictions against Barnard K. Marcus and Saul Singer for their roles in the failed Bank of United States.
Steuer focused on his many individual clients and left behind no philosophy and no writing such as a book or law review article. His lasting influence lies in his legendary ability to question witnesses. His son Aron Steuer, a New York state court judge, compiled a book about his father's career that consisted entirely of excerpts from Max Steuer's cross-examination of witnesses. Steuer's lesson to the lawyers who followed him was to see each case as a whole and to watch for testimony that runs counter to human experience.
- "Steuer, Max David". Dictionary of American Biography, Vol XI, Supplements One and Two (Harris Starr and Robert Schuyler, eds. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York)
- "Steuer, Max David". Who Was Who in America, Vol. IV (Marquis-Who’s Who, Inc, Chicago, IL)
- Steuer, Aron. Max D. Steuer: Trial Lawyer (Random House, New York 1950)