When the late Broward Circuit Judge Stanton Kaplan wanted quiet in his courtroom, there was no need to bang the gavel — he commanded such respect that he'd tap his pen on the bench and the required hush would descend.
On Wednesday evening, several hundred people gathered for his memorial service in Davie to pay their final respects to the judge, who was a courthouse legend.
Kaplan, 76, died Saturday at his Plantation home from complications of the polio that struck in his teens and obliged him to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
The wheelchair became part of jailhouse lore — burglars said the judge used it because a burglar shot him during a break-in; robbers said he was shot during a robbery.
But for those who knew him better, it was never about the disability. It was always about confronting adversity with determination but no fuss, friends and family members said.
When his three sons were growing up, their dad coached Little League, swam in the pool with them and "was out there playing ball with us more than any other dad on the street," said his eldest son, Broward Circuit Judge Michael Kaplan.
"It never really occurred to me that there was something different about him and I don't remember what age I was when it sunk in that he used the wheelchair, it barely registered with me as a kid," he said. "He was one of the strongest, bravest persons I know. He didn't let anything stop him."
The elder Judge Kaplan had a reputation for being tough but painstakingly fair. Crime victims lauded him for his tough sentencing record but when defendants struck him as having the potential to reform, he would try to give them a second chance.
If they messed up and had to face him again, they were in a lot of trouble.
"We get a few letters a year from people thanking him for helping them turn their lives around or giving them the chance to change their own lives," said his wife, Sue Kaplan. "He believed very strongly in justice and doing things the right way."
Family and friends said that perfectionism was evident in everything Judge Kaplan did — from cultivating his beloved bonsai trees to molding a couple of generations of lawyers.
Dozens of lawyers said he mentored them with insightful but no-holds-barred critiques of their courtroom skills. And the judge, who was also known for his elegant suits and stunning collection of ties, would dispense sometimes unsought fashion advice to male lawyers.
As a mark of respect, the flag outside the county courthouse was flown at half-staff Wednesday and some of the speakers at the memorial service suggested the new courthouse, which broke ground this week, should be named in his honor.
Judge Kaplan is survived by his third wife, Sue; his sons, Michael, Steve and Sander, three stepchildren, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
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