Stephen Jerome, 61, Had Been ‘Out’ For Decades
Jerry Levy, 69, his legal assistant, a retired attorney said of Jerome, “He lived his life with drama and flair, and with a love and caring, and a song on his lips and in his heart; a good attorney who served his clients well.”
Theater and acting was his passion, and on Friday evening, March 9, Stephen Jerome was set to star as Max Bialystok in the opening of the Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts production of ‘The Producers.’
Instead, on that very morning, the talented thespian, a prominent open and out gay 61-year old bankruptcy lawyer, took his own life by leaping from the 11th floor of his law office building, located at 1600 South Federal Highway in Pompano Beach.
His death came within hours of his having been released from the Broward County Jail on a $1,000 bond, for charges of Possession of Oxycodone, Marijuana, and Drug Paraphernalia.
Twenty-four hours before, on Thursday morning, at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Jerome had been served with a search warrant, by the multi agency task force known as L.E.A.C.H., the Law Enforcement Against Child Harm Task Force, which targets Internet predators of children and child pornography. The warrant, signed by a Broward County Circuit judge on Monday, March 5, provided for the seizure of Jerome’s home computers.
Detective Jennifer Montgomery of the Broward Sheriff’s Office and her team executed the warrant on March 8. She was troubled by Jerome’s death, stating, “No one feels good about an outcome like this.”
In fact the team of detectives who executed the warrant returned to his law office the next day to express their regrets to his law partner and staff. One even offered to adopt Jerome’s dog, a small mixed shepherd, affectionately, named ‘Nudnick.’
He was arrested on Thursday, not for child pornography, but for the possession of illegal narcotics that he did not have a prescription for, that deputies say, “were in plain view as the warrant was served.”
Nevertheless, the task force will have to carry out its duty to search the computers in order to determine if pornographic files were housed on them. “It’s our obligation,” Detective Montgomery stated, “to identify them in case there are potential victims.”
Twenty years before, in 1992, Jerome had served five years probation for possession of child pornography. It was a terribly difficult time for him. While his law license was suspended, he spent time delivering pizzas.
As Jerome returned to the practice of law, he developed a reputation as a successful bankruptcy lawyer, while cultivating his passion, participating in theatrical groups throughout the county. He played Luther in South Pacific, Mushnick in Little Shop of Horrors, and Charlegmagne in Pippin, along with a host of other starring roles.
“Theater enriched him,” said Keith Kramer, a fellow cast member in The Producers.
Over the years, during the Holiday Season, Jerome would dress as Santa Claus and walk from courtroom to courtroom, regaling crowds and singing Christmas carols for the judicial staff. With a marvelous voice that ranged from high bass to high tenor, Jerome once even appeared as a soloist on an Alan King television special.
His fellow cast members at TOPA in Pembroke Pines have dedicated this show to him.
One of those community actors, renowned attorney Alvin Entin, remarked “Stephen was a bundle of joy and energy and brought enthusiasm and passion to his role and the cast. We are all deeply saddened.”
It was Jerome’s former law partner, Jodi Fisher, who would pick Jerome up from the Broward County jail at 4 a.m. on Friday morning. She drove him to his Fort Lauderdale home, where they chatted about “the future” for a few hours, and how to deal with the arrest, the practice, and other issues.
“Of course,” she said, “he was distraught. But he picked himself up and went to work. He was at the law office by 9 a.m.” Fisher had herself just begun working there again, contemplating a renewed business relationship with Jerome.
But Fisher would later find out that Jerome, upon returning to the office, executed a new will, naming her as the Personal Representative only moments before leaping to his death.
Jerome’s life partner, Balvino Berrera, 48, was in Guatemala with his family. According to Fisher, Jerome had planned on retiring in the next few years to Guatemala to be with Berrera full time. Jerome also wired Berrera funds early Friday morning.
His final words to a staff member at his office that morning was to excuse himself “to go to the bathroom,” but instead he wound up leaping to his death from a small balcony on a higher floor.
Said Fisher, who had just recently begun returning to the office to work with Jerome, “He was my little nerdy brother I could never get rid of. He was my office husband, a wonderful law office partner, and my best friend. People thought we were married.”
“This is terrible news,” Aaron Humphrey, Esq., emailed his colleagues, “Stephen was a great attorney who will be missed.”
Added Dean Trantalis, “It represents the passing of another important member of our community, and is a loss for everybody. The circumstances under which he died are very painful to everyone, but our hearts go out to his family and friends.”
A 1977 graduate of the University of Miami who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, family members are planning a burial and funeral service for Jerome tomorrow in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Local members of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Network will be gathering at his home to celebrate Stephen’s life, Thursday, at 7 p.m.
Update: The Miami Herald also posted a story this morning about Jerome's suicide, written by Stephen Rothaus and Ellie Brecher, which can be accessed http://miamiherald.com.