A prominent New York City lawyer who married a Hollywood star and spent the last eight years overseeing police reforms as the NYPD’s court-appointed federal monitor died Monday. Peter Zimroth was 78.
Zimroth’s death was confirmed by his top deputy on the monitoring team, Richard Jerome, who said he spent his last hours at home in New York City “surrounded by the love of his family.”
In March, Zimroth revealed he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Jerome said Zimroth was living with the disease for about two years and kept working into his final days.
Zimroth, a law professor and the director of New York University’s Center on Civil Justice, married Academy Award-winning actress Estelle Parsons in 1983. Together, they adopted a son, Abraham.
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin appointed Zimroth to monitor the NYPD after she ruled that the department violated the constitution with its tactic of stopping, questioning and frisking mostly Black and Hispanic people on the street en masse.
She directed Zimroth to develop reforms to policies, training, supervision and discipline with input from communities most affected.
In the years since, Zimroth and his team issued more than a dozen reports on the NYPD’s compliance with various reforms, including the effectiveness of body-worn cameras and analyses of racial disparities in officers' use of stop-and-frisk tactics.
“As the federal monitor, Peter faithfully sought to inspire improvements in the New York City Police Department, build collaboration among the Department, plaintiffs and the communities served, while effecting sustainable, positive changes in police practices,” Jerome wrote in an email to reporters announcing Zimroth's death.
Zimroth “not only brought together a diverse group of skilled and independent thinkers, but who also challenged each of us to consider all options in our recommendations and perspectives,” Jerome wrote. “We admired Peter as a leader and will miss him most as our dear friend."
Zimroth, a Brooklyn native, graduated from Columbia University in 1963 and Yale Law School in 1966. He worked as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, as the top deputy to longtime Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and as corporation counsel, the city government's top lawyer, under Mayor Ed Koch.
In a statement, current Corporation Counsel Georgia Pestana said Zimroth was “an exemplary and thoughtful leader" who “always demonstrated a strong moral compass and commitment to furthering the interests” of the city and its residents.
Early in his career, Zimroth represented whistleblower police detective David Durk, who joined Officer Frank Serpico in raising alarms about rampant corruption within the NYPD, leading to an investigation and major reforms.
Zimroth started teaching at NYU in 1970. In August, he announced he was making a major donation to the school's Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, which it renamed in his honor.
After disclosing his cancer diagnosis, Zimroth used the grim news for good.
Seeing parallels between his fight and the global battle against COVID-19, he designed T-shirts encouraging people to get vaccinated and sold them through a GoFundMe page that's raised nearly $73,000 for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak