Homeless & refugee rights defender Judge Atkins dead at 84 FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 16 Mar 1999 20:40:38 -0800 (PST)

FWD  Washington Post - Thursday, March 11, 1999


By John Pacenti
Associated Press Writer

MIAMI (AP) -- U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins, a staunch defender of
the homeless and refugees in rulings that challenged national policy, died
Thursday of colon cancer. He was 84.

In 1992, he created ``safe zones'' for the area's homeless to stay without
threat of police arrest, ruling that Miami had violated the Constitution by
seizing and destroying the meager belongings of homeless people while
chasing them off the streets.

The decision inspired community leaders to establish what is now a
nationally recognized system to help the homeless -- shelter, job training,
counseling and other assistance.

Atkins' rulings on behalf of Haitian and Cuban refugees vexed the Bush and
the Clinton administrations' efforts to repatriate thousands of refugees
from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Both decisions were
overturned on appeal.

``He's physically a small man ... but he's an intellectual giant,'' Miami
attorney Ellis Rubin, who often appeared before him, once said. ``For the
homeless, for the Haitians, for the anti-Castro Cubans, he gives the
benefit of the doubt, and when he can, he rules for the little people.''

Atkins earned a law degree from the University of Florida, worked as a
trial attorney in Miami and was appointed a federal judge in 1966 by
President Johnson.

He became chief judge in 1977 and took senior status in 1983, but continued
a heavy caseload. He also sat on panels of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of

Atkins, who represented the Roman Catholic Church in Florida while in
private practice, was named a knight of St. Gregory by Pope Paul VI in

Survivors include his wife, Esther, a daughter and seven grandchildren.


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