In Alden Chester’s 1925 work, Courts and Lawyers of New York: A History, Chester states that Judge Albert Haight’s length of service as a jurist had not been exceeded by any other judge in Erie County. Given Haight’s remarkably long service as a New York state judge-starting at the age of 30 as a Supreme Court Justice, continuing to the mandatory retirement age of age 70 on the Court of Appeals, and continuing still as an official judicial referee until his death at age 84: Haight possibly holds the length of continuous service record for any Judge throughout New York State to this day.
On February 20, 1842, Albert Haight was born in Ellicottville, Cattaraugus County, New York. His parents, Henry Haight and Sarah Sisson Haight were farmers near Aurora and then West Falls, Erie County, New York. As a boy, Haight worked on the family farm and attended public country schools. At the age of 16, he attended the Springville Academy. In 1861, at the age of 20, he moved to Buffalo and studied law with the office of Messrs. Sawin & Lockwood and then with Edward Stevens.
In 1863, at the age of 21, he was admitted to practice and opened an office in Buffalo. He practiced law for nine years. In 1864, Haight married Angeline Waters of Aurora, New York.
In 1869, he was elected supervisor from the Second Ward of Buffalo. He was reelected in 1870 and 1871.
Haight was a lifelong Republican, and, in 1872, at the age of 30, he was elected on that ticket to the office of Erie County Judge. He was the youngest man who had ever held that office. A year before his term expired, in 1876, he was elected Justice of the Supreme Court to a 14-year term. In 1884, Governor Grover Cleveland appointed Haight as an Associate Justice of the General Term, Fifth Department.
Most famously, Haight presided over what became known as the Standard Oil Conspiracy case. Following a series of small explosions at the Buffalo Lubricating Oil Company, employees of the Standard Oil Company were charged with criminal conspiracy to injure trade and arson. The general charge was that these Standard Oil defendants induced one of Buffalo Oil’s employees-Albert A. Miller: to ruin Buffalo Oil’s business by sabotaging its equipment. Miller apparently was not tried for any crime.
At trial, Miller testified that the Standard Oil defendants advised him on how to cripple Buffalo Oil. Employees of Buffalo Oil testified that, on the day that the first run of oil was made there were two explosions that blew a safety valve off, freeing a vapor that luckily did not ignite. Miller was not at the company when the explosions occurred, but had built the fires under the boilers. Employees testified that they had never seen fires so hot, and they regarded the fires as dangerous. Miller, however, had directed that the employees put more coal on the fires, and even may have thrown in some coal himself.
At the close of the People’s case, Judge Haight ordered some of the Standard Oil defendants acquitted. In charging the jury as to the remaining Standard Oil defendants, Judge Haight “passed over the broad charge of conspiracy to ruin the Buffalo Company, and said that the attempt to blow up the works was ‘the chief inquiry in the case.'”1 The jury found the remaining defendants guilty as charged in the indictment. At sentencing, Judge Haight directed these defendants to pay a fine of $250 each. As editorialized by the New York Times, “[m]uch indignation was the result of this farcical administration of justice.”2 During Judge Haight’s subsequent designation and election to the Court of Appeals, the press raised his involvement in the Standard Oil case.
A few years after the Standard Oil trial, and based on an 1888 referendum to provide for a second division of the Court of Appeals, the governor designated seven Supreme Court Justices, including Haight, to serve as associate judges on the second division.3 The second division was implemented to address the Court’s backlog of cases. The second division functioned until 1892.
In 1894, Judge Haight was elected to the Court of Appeals for an eight-year term. He was reelected in 1908, and served until 1912, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 years old.
Judge Haight wrote 621 Court of Appeals opinions and 71 dissenting opinions. An interesting early Judge Haight opinion is Quinlen v. Welch (69 Hun 584 ). In that case, the Court interpreted the 1873 Civil Damage Act, which provided a right of action to every husband, wife or child who is injured in person or property or by means of support by any intoxicated person or by any person selling or giving away intoxicating liquors or renting a building having knowledge that intoxicating liquors are sold therein. The defendant in the case was the owner of premises where intoxicating drinks were sold to Dennis Quinlen, who became intoxicated, wandered onto a railroad track, and was struck and killed by a train. The plaintiff was Quinlen’s daughter: who was born one day after her father’s death. Carefully citing Blackstone and a wealth of historical and contemporaneous precedent, Judge Haight wrote that the child could maintain the action, holding that “[a]n unborn child, if subsequently born alive, if deprived of a parent, suffers damage in its means of support equally with the children that were living at the time of the decease of such parent” (id.).
One of Judge Haight’s most-often cited opinions is from his later years on the Court. People ex rel. Lodes v. Department of Health of the City of New York (189 NY 187 ) involved George Lodes’s application for a preemptory writ of mandamus to compel the Board of Health to rescind its action revoking his permits to sell and deliver milk from wagons and from his store in Brooklyn. The Board of Health revoked the permits without notice to Lodes, and opposed the writ based on Lodes’s four prior convictions for selling adulterated milk. Based on a thoroughly reasoned majority opinion by Judge Haight, the Court held that Lodes was not entitled to a preemptory writ. Judge Haight carefully concluded that Lodes did not have a property interest in the permits because the permits were a license and, as such, could be revoked without notice on the basis of a public health violation. The Judge also wrote that the Board members were administrative, not judicial, officers and thus, a writ of mandamus may lie only if “their action is arbitrary, tyrannical and unreasonable, or is based upon false information.” (id. at 194). As evidenced by Lodes, Judge Haight was at the forefront of developing the arbitrary and capricious standard of review in the administrative law context.
Judge Haight was described as “modest and unassuming to his own attainments” and as a jurist who was “‘[s]low to judgment, seeks the truth, is just, and sure.'”4 He was known for his reserved personality and slow manner of speech: another Buffalo judge noted that when Judge Haight spoke “‘even in ordinary conversation, he seemed to weigh his words, as if he were handing down an opinion.'”5 The Judge was also described as an “example of intellectuality, civic spirit, character, learning and achievement” with his career presenting “a noble ensemble of vigor, consistency and high-minded purposefulness.”6 Chief Judge Cullen memorialized Judge Haight’s true fondness of his fellow Judges and affection for his colleagues in Buffalo by quipping, “‘He has not known love who has not known Haight.'”7
After his retirement, Judge Haight became an official referee of the Court of Appeals, maintaining an office in the Prudential Building in Buffalo, New York. He was also an active member of the Erie County Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, the Buffalo Club, and the Lawyers’ Club.
Judge Haight died on October 6, 1926, at the age of 84. On October 8, 1926, Judge Haight was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. The Court of Appeals closed that day so Chief Judge Hiscock, Judge Crane, and Judge Pound could attend the funeral. Mrs. Haight predeceased Judge Haight in 1921. Judge Haight was survived by one daughter, Mrs. J.A. (Clara Haight) Hayes, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. The December 31, 1926, Court of Appeals memorial states:
It was Judge Haight’s fortune to begin his work on the bench when a young man and to continue his labor without interruption to extreme old age. But we count not achievement by figures on a dial. Kind nature and political favor might combine to create a career noteworthy only for length. For Judge Haight they did more. They gave him an opportunity for distinction as a jurist which he seized with earnestness. How honorably and successfully he made use of it the report of Hun and of this court attest. In patience, he rivaled Job. In diligence, he had that infinite capacity for taking pains that some call genius. Conscientious to the last degree he counted his work unfinished until the last page of the record had been read, the last authority had been examined and the last word in consultation had been said. With him ‘discretion of speech’ was ‘more than eloquence;’ a case in point better than the apt turning of a phrase. As a rule he kept near the shore of legal tradition and cared not to embark on the uncertain ocean of sociological and philosophic jurisprudence. . . . In the tribute to the judge we do not forget the man. For his colleagues and for the member of the bar his affection was deep and lasting. . . . A brother judge was to him a brother indeed; a lawyer, one of the chosen people. He will be missed from the gatherings of the bar, both sad and social, where his dignified and typically judicial figure had become so familiar. But his name will live in memory as that of a great jurist whose warmth of heart a somewhat solemn and taciturn exterior sometimes concealed but never chilled.8
Judge Haight was survived by one daughter, Mrs. J.A. (Clara Haight) Hayes, five grandchildren: Albert Haight Hayes (1896-1976), Angeline Haight Beecher (1900-1981), Louisa Hayes Crawford (1902-1981), George Burrell Hayes (1908-1931), and Dorothy Hayes Hummell (1916-1981)Cand one great-grandchild, Nancy Ann Beecher (1922- ). One granddaughter, Clara Margaret Fielder, predeceased the Judge in 1926. Louisa Hayes Crawford had a son, Richard Hayes Crawford (1929-1996).
Clara Haight Hayes died in 1947. Albert Haight Hayes was survived by his wife Gertrude H. Hayes, but no children. Angeline Haight Beecher Barney married Malcolm Barney and was survived by her daughter Nancy Ann Beecher Kimball. She married John K. Kimball (1920-1986), and they had two children, Catherine Angeline Kimball (1947- ) and John K. Kimball Jr. (1950- ). Catherine married Jeffrey Braxton and resides in West Haven, Vermont. John married Susan Penney Kimball and resides in Jupiter, Florida. He has a stepson, Eric C. Seymour.
Louisa Hayes Crawford married Arthur Crawford and was survived by a son, Richard Hayes Crawford (1929-1996). George Burrell Hayes died in 1931 without any children. Dorothy Hayes Hummell was survived by two daughters, Margaret Ellen Hummell Miller (1941-2001) and Dorothy May Hummell Leonard (1944- ). Margaret Ellen Hummell Miller was survived by two daughters, Jennifer Dorothy Miller (1972- ) and Sonia Heather Miller (1977- ). Dorothy May Hummell Leonard (1944- ) married John Leonard. They live in London and have a son, John Daniel Hayes Leonard.
This biography appears in The Judges of the New York Court of Appeals: A Biographical History, ed. Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007). It has not been updated since publication.
Bergan, The History of the New York Court of Appeals, 1847-1932 (1985).
Buffalo Courier, Body of Judge Haight is Taken to Final Rest, October 9, 1926.
Buffalo Courier, Judge Haight, Dean of Bench in W.N.Y., Dies, October 7, 1926.
Buffalo Courier, Judge Haight’s Funeral Will be Held Today, October 8, 1926.
Buffalo Evening News, Hon. D.B. Hill Urges Return of Judge Haight, April 5, 1908.
Buffalo Evening News, Judge Albert Haight, October 7, 1926.
Buffalo Evening News, Judge Albert Haight, October 8, 1926.
Buffalo Evening News, Judge Haight Dies at age of 84 Years, October 6, 1926.
Buffalo Evening News, Judge Haight’s Turning Point in Great Career, March 30, 1908.
Buffalo Times, Bury Judge Haight, October 8, 1928.
Buffalo Times, Entire Life Bound Up in Judicial Interests, October 10, 1936.
Buffalo Times, Judge Albert Haight, October 7, 1926.
Buffalo Times, Judge Haight’s Service, June 6, 1908.
Buffalo Times, Lawyers to Attend Funeral of Haight, October 7, 1926.
Buffalo Times, Typical Farm-Boy, Albert Haight, August 11, 1928.
Buffalo Times, Who’s Who in Buffalo, September 26, 1924.
Chester, Courts and lawyers of New York: A history, 1609-1925, Vol. III (1925).
Express, Honors to Haight, J., November 29, 1908.
Express, Naming Judge Haight, June 7, 1908.
History of the Bench and Bar of Erie County, New York, The Genealogical Publ. Co., 1909, at 37.
Municipality of Buffalo, New York: A History 1720-1923, Henry Wayland Hill, New York, Lewis Historical Publ. Co., 1923 at 33.
New York Times, A Standard Oil Candidate, October 29, 1889, at 4.
New York Times, Career of Albert Haight, September 19, 1894, at 3.
New York Times, Four Judges to Retire, July 13, 1912, at 10.
New York Times, Haight Fills out the Ticket, September 19, 1894, at 3.
New York Times, January 22, 1884, at 5.
New York Times, Judge Albert Haight, July 11, 1882, at 3.
New York Times, Judge Albert Haight Dead at Age of 84, October 7, 1926.
New York Times, Judge-elect Haight Takes the Oath, December 21, 1894, at 1.
New York Times, March 9, 1881, at 1.
New York Times, May 20, 1884, at 5.
New York Times, Morton!, November 7, 1894, at 1.
New York Times, Telegraphic Brevities, January 15, 1895, at 6.
New York Times, The Court of Appeals Judgeship, October 22, 1894, at 4.
New York Times, The New State Officers, November 7, 1894, at 9.
New York Times, To Dine Retiring Judges, December 6, 1912, at 4.
New York Times, What to do with all the Ballots, November 4, 1894, at 19.
New York Times, Why Was He So Lenient, October 30, 1889, at 8.
The Political Graveyard, http://politicalgraveyard.com/bio/haiach-haiko.html.
We know of no published writings of Judge Haight beyond his written decisions.
- New York Times, Why Was He So Lenient, October 30, 1889, at 8.
- Bergan, The History of the New York Court of Appeals, 1847-1932, at 132-135 (1985). The other six Justices of the 1889 Second Division were David S. Follett, George B. Bradley, Joseph Potter, Irving G. Vann, Alton B. Parker and Charles F. Brown. The Justices chose Justice Follett to be the Chief Judge. Along with Haight, Vann and Parker became Judges of the Court of Appeals, with Parker becoming Chief Judge (see id. at 134).
- History of the Bench and Bar of Erie County, New York, The Genealogical Publ. Co., at 38 (1909).
- Entire Life Bound Up In Judicial Interest, New York Times, October 10, 1926.
- Buffalo Times, October 7, 1926.
- Honors to Haight, Buffalo Courier, November 29, 1908.
- 244 NY 615.