The Life and Legacy of Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke: "Truly an Exemplary Life. a Life Well Lived"

By Carlisle, Jay C., II; DiPietro, Anthony | Albany Law Review, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

The Life and Legacy of Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke: "Truly an Exemplary Life. a Life Well Lived"


Carlisle, Jay C., II, DiPietro, Anthony, Albany Law Review


INTRODUCTION

It is an appropriate tribute to the late Chief Judge of New York, Lawrence H. Cooke, that this article be devoted to a man who many leaders of the bench, bar, and academia consider to be the greatest jurist to ever serve on New York State's highest court. Chief Judge Cooke, better known as Larry, served with honor and distinction as an associate judge of the Court of Appeals, and later as Chief Judge. (2)

Lawrence H. Cooke was a man "motivated by love--for his family, for the law, for people and life in general." (3) He led a full and meaningful life that exemplified fundamental virtues of peace, integrity, and fairness. (4) While growing up in Monticello, New York, a town on the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, his parents taught him that dedication and hard work was required in order to be successful. (5) His father, a former District Attorney for Sullivan County, showed him that public servants must always "take the high road" (6) in their affairs and never be obligated to anyone. (7)

Chief Judge Cooke once wrote that he considered his father "the personification of virtue. He was a man of common sense and logic--with his feet always solidly on the ground." (8) Chief Judge Cooke's father's teachings influenced his work ethic, which resulted in him working up to eighteen hours per day to fulfill his judicial duties. (9) Chief Judge Cooke recognized that his time on the court was a "sacred mission" in order to provide litigants a full and fair process. (10)

In 1981, during a keynote address, Chief Judge Cooke stated: "Justice is the great commodity." (11) He explained that leaders should always be guided by principles of justice and equality. In this regard, Chief Judge Cooke explained that great historical leaders appreciated this concept, noting as an example that Abraham Lincoln understood "the... important idea that the law represented... the idea of fairness;" Thomas Jefferson "exalted the concept of 'equal and exact justice to all;'" and Frederick Douglass observed that "[t]he lesson which the American people must learn... is that equal manhood means equal rights." (12) Following this approach himself, Chief Judge Cooke left a legacy defending equal justice and fundamental fairness for all people.

I. BACKGROUND

At the age of twenty, Chief Judge Cooke graduated cum laude from Georgetown University, (13) and later received the John Carroll Award. (14) Upon graduating from Georgetown, Chief Judge Cooke was accepted into Harvard Law School, where he began his legal education. (15) He later transferred and graduated from Albany Law School. (16) Chief Judge Cooke also received honorary LLB or LLD degrees from Albany Law School, Union University, Siena College, Brooklyn Law School, New York University, Pace University, and Syracuse University. (17)

After graduating from Albany Law School, the Chief worked at the law office of John Lyons, a well-known Sullivan Country trial lawyer. (18) In 1947, he became the Chairman of the Sullivan County Board of Supervisors. (19) After working for John Lyons, Chief Judge Cooke went into private practice and in 1953, ran for County Court Judge. (20) A year later, Cooke was elected as Sullivan County Judge, Surrogate and Children's Court Judge. (21) In 1961, Cooke was named to the New York State Supreme Court, followed by an appointment to the Appellate Division, Third Department, in 1969. (22) He was elected to the Court of Appeals as an associate judge in 1974, (23) and in 1979, was appointed Chief Judge. (24) Chief Judge Cooke served on New York's highest court with novel admiration from his colleagues, and is remembered as one of the most influential and celebrated jurists. (25)

During his tenure on the bench, Chief Judge Cooke wrote many instructive opinions on criminal law and procedure, (26) New York Practice, the right to free press, guardianship, and victim rights. (27) The Chief authored significant opinions relating to the development of the state's independence and the progression of New York's Constitution. …

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