ASKED & ANSWERED: Mayer Morganroth

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Birmingham attorney Mayer Morganroth was not only Jack Kevorkian's attorney, he was a close friend. Now Morganroth is overseeing the upcoming auction of Kevorkian's paintings, writings, his favorite blue sweaters, and other possessions.

Most of the proceeds will go to Kevorkian's sole survivor, his niece; as well as to the Kicking Cancer for Kids charity.

The auction will be held at the New York Institute of Technology, 1855 Broadway, on Oct. 28, with items available for viewing on Oct. 27.

We talked to Morganroth about the auction, and the controversial pathologist who died in June at the age of 83.

Mathis: How did you become friends with Jack Kevorkian?

Morganroth: Originally (Geoffrey) Fieger represented Jack Kevorkian, and Fieger wanted my help because of my criminal law experience. While we were conducting the Miller Wanz trial, Jack sits down and takes out a Japanese newspaper. I thought he was just being cynical. But it turned out he could read and speak Japanese, self-taught. That was some 17 years ago when we first started those trials, and we started to become friends.

When the Youk trial started, I was involved because he'd discharged Fieger. But then he asked me to take over everything on his last day, and I finally did when I saw the havoc that had been rendered in the verdict that was entered.

After that, I represented him alone. When he went to prison, I handled all the appeals, and all the motions and the hearings and the parole board as well as the appellate courts and finally got him out. But during that period of time, we got quite friendly. We talked to each other daily and I visited him a lot. When he got out, I handled his affairs regarding his lectures, etc. etc. I got him his apartment.

Mathis: Kevorkian spent eight years in prison after he was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999, while acting as his own attorney. How did he handle prison all those years?

Morganroth: He handled it better than most anybody I know. He was writing books in there. He wrote a book on the ninth amendment. But his biggest problem was he was bored. He also had very high blood pressure and hepatitis was attacking him through his liver. But he himself handled it much better mentally than I think most people would.

Mathis: What would surprise the rest of us to know about him?

Morganroth: Most people would be surprised by his many talents. He painted beautifully, and was widely diversified. Another thing that would really surprise people: They think he was named Dr. Death because of his position on the end of life. That's not true. It's when he was a pathologist, and he devised a new way to determine whether someone was dead or not. Too many times people were declared dead by doctors and it turned out they were wrong. He devised a method that is used today that is a light shining into the eye, and the eye itself has so many features to show that a person is dead. So at that time, he was called Dr. Death because he devised a way of determining for sure that someone had passed away.

Mathis: Did he talk about his own impending death?

Morganroth: He did talk about death in his last months. I was his health advocate, too, and I was at the hospital with him that entire period of time. He did say that if he was going to die, he wanted to go home and die there. He expressed to me many times that he didn't want any artificial means. He just wanted to go peacefully. And that's what happened ... He was in a coma, and his nurse asked me and his niece, Ava, what kind of music he enjoyed. So that's how he passed away those last several hours, with Bach being played. It was peaceful and he wasn't in pain at all.

Mathis: Did he believe in an afterlife?

Morganroth: No. He was agnostic. He said he'd find out once he's gone, but he wasn't sure one way or the other.

Mathis: Are you worried that his phanotron (otherwise known as the "death machine") will get in the wrong hands?

Morganroth: We believe it will be an institution that buys it. If it's a private citizen, we'll be very selective. And nobody would be able to use it, anyway. They'd have the instrument, but not the ingredients or the know-how.

Mathis: Many of Kevorkian's paintings depict death. Was the subject more important to him than the art itself?

Morganroth: He had several favorite subjects. Music is the subject of one painting. Some of them depicted death, and one was about the Holocaust. But they had a story to tell. They weren't about death itself so much as they were about the improper causing of it.

Mathis: What can you tell us about his compositions and writing that will be auctioned?

Morganroth: There are going to be all kinds of things -- the drafts he wrote regarding certain books he wrote; letters he sent to the Supreme Court; letters that came to him, like Kurt Vonnegut praising him and supporting him; and then of course memorabilia such as materials written about him in prison, to the vast number of paperwork. As well as his blue sweater, and several hats. And a bullet-proof vest, which he wore early on.

Mathis: What about that blue sweater?

Morganroth: He had a couple of blue sweaters he wore quite a bit. That's generally what he wore when he was seen in public, when he was riding his bike, when we went to occasions. Also his tux -- the one he wore to the Emmy's and had worn once before when he won a national award -- that, also, is being auctioned off.

Mathis: Who do you expect will be bidding on his work?

Morganroth: I think it'll be institutional bidders, and I think it'll be people who collect memorabilia or things of note, and art. The art is very bold.

Mathis: What will you always remember about him?

Morganroth: I'll always remember him as a dear friend, primarily. I've represented some very notable clients. I represented Coleman Young for 20 years. I represented Congressman John Conyers, Lyndon LaRouche, some teamsters regarding Jimmy Hoffa, and some of them afterwards. I represented John DeLorean. They were all unique characters, no question about it. But in the broad spectrum, Jack was more unique than all of them.

Mathis: If people are interested in bidding of any of the Kevorkian materials but can't get to New York, what should they do?

Morganroth: They should contact art appraiser David Streets at 310-498-4907 or at

Published: Mon, Oct 17, 2011


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