Legal Community Mourns Legendary Pensacola Attorney Fred Levin

Attorney with ‘the heart of a champion’ led groundbreaking case against big tobacco

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By Beth Taylor on January 18, 2021


Legendary Pensacola personal injury attorney Fredric Levin, who in the 1990s led the way to a $13 billion settlement for the state of Florida against the tobacco industry, passed away at age 83 on Jan. 12, due to complications from COVID-19.

“We have lost a partner, a mentor, a brother in arms and, most importantly, a dear friend,” says personal injury attorney Mark Proctor, president of Levin Papantonio. Proctor came on board in 1981, 20 years after Levin joined the firm founded by brother David Levin and former Gov. Reubin Askew. “Fredric Gerson Levin will always live on in these halls: during the week, on the weekends, every day; at every lunch, in every way; but most importantly, in our work, his work, lending a voice to those in need.”

Levin was featured in the debut issue of Florida Super Lawyers Magazine, in 2006, in which he said he was proudest of his legacy from the tobacco suit and another case in which he forced a pharmaceutical company to stop producing Chloromycetin, which had potentially fatal side effects. These two cases, he believed, ended in “saving more lives than were lost in Korea and Vietnam combined.”

In addition to courtroom prowess, Levin was known for his philanthropy. The University of Florida’s law school was named for him in 1999 after he donated $10 million—then the second-largest cash donation ever made to a public law school— to his alma mater from the proceeds of his battle against big tobacco. In that case, he convinced state lawmakers to revise Florida’s Medicaid law so that the state could go after the tobacco industry to recover money spent treating smoking-related illnesses. Other states followed suit.

The same year as his donation to UF, Levin donated $2 million to the Levin & Papantonio Family Foundation, which supports organizations and individuals caring for needy children. Other philanthropic efforts have included another $2 million, in 2017, to create the Frederic G. Levin Distinguished Chair in Thoracic Surgery and Lung Cancer Research, in gratitude to Dr. Raphael Bueno, who saved Levin’s life after he was diagnosed in 2016 with metastasized lung cancer. Following treatment including surgery, Levin’s cancer was in remission.

Levin’s passion for representing the underdog was influenced by his early life experiences.

“Growing up a Jewish kid in the South, Fred Levin learned what it felt like to be an outsider; what it felt like to not always belong,” says Proctor. “It was a feeling that would both mold and drive his life, both personal and professional. He had both the heart of the little man and the heart of a champion and used all of his resources, both inside the courtroom and out, to advocate the interests of people, not the powerful.”

His interests extended beyond the law, into the world of boxing. Levin was manager for several boxers, including Pensacola’s Roy Jones Jr. and Ghana-born Ike Quartey.

Personal injury attorney Virginia Buchanan, who joined Levin Papantonio in 1989, remembers a side of Levin that few ever saw in the courtroom.

“He was a man for all seasons—somehow shy and kind, and at the same time brash and bold,” she says. “He loved a good fight but played fairly. It was magic to see this sometimes socially awkward man in the courtroom—it was his golden place, where he shined the brightest.

“What an amazing treat it was to be mentored and taught by the very best. He adored his family, Pensacola, UF and the Gators, his firm and all its members, his friends, and  abundant amounts of fried chicken.  We will miss him always.”

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