Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Thoughts on Judge Hancock

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Thoughts on Judge Hancock

Article excerpt

I was a young, flappable reporter with the Syracuse Post-Standard in 1989 when I set out to do a profile of Judge Hancock, then on the state Court of Appeals. (1) My worries about having to interview a stuffy intellect with little time or patience for a pesky reporter were quickly allayed.

Hancock was a reporter's dream. He gave me almost unlimited access to a wonderfully colorful life on the bench and off. He stood on his head in chambers, broke into song while deliberating with the other judges, and loved talking in great depth about the law. How could a reporter ask for more?

We stayed in close contact over the years, and T continued to chronicle his life after he retired from the bench. Here's what stood out about him: unlike anyone else I ever wrote about, Hancock was interested in what I thought about a case or a law or an issue. It was intimidating to have this legal giant ask me, a non-lawyer. But it was evident that he wasn't doing it just as a kindness. He really wanted to know.

That's what he did at the lunches he arranged with judges and lawyers every few months in the past ten years or so in Cazenovia. And he always included me. What an honor. I wrote about these lunches in a story I did on Hancock after he died:

   In recent years, Hancock would gather up lawyer and judge
   friends and meet for lunch at the Lincklaen House in
   Cazenovia. He would tell stories and ask questions about
   the law and what was going on with them personally, then
   pick up the tab.

   "The thing about the lunches was simple--the privilege was
   ours," said Emil Rossi, one of the lawyers who attended.
   "We'd get the opportunity to sit down and learn from him
   and just enjoy his company. But he always acted as though
   the privilege was his." (2)

He wanted to know what was going on in the lives of everyone at the table, and always asked how he could help.

Hancock loved to poke fun at himself. He often talked about his unsuccessful run for Congress in 1960, calling his political career meteoric in that, like a meteor, it started out with a bright light then "all goes dark."

For that profile I wrote in 1989, Hancock described himself to me as a "pragmatic instrumentalist"--someone who believes that the law is an instrument to serve society, that society does not serve the law. …

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