“He was a most uncommon man who was friend to the common man, as, on the other hand, those who attained their renown, were honored to be able to call him friend.”1 Judge Loughran was revered in every aspect of his life. As a teacher and a judge, he distilled a level of dignity upon those who appeared before him whether it be in class or in court. An example is well illustrated by an astonishing event that occurred when he was a trial judge. After a jury found a defendant guilty of first degree murder and Judge Loughran was preparing to impose the mandatory sentence of death, he asked the defendant whether he had anything to say, to which the defendant retorted “Strange as it may seem I am innocent but I want to thank you Judge, just the same for a very fair and impartial trial.”2
John Thomas Loughran was born in Kingston, New York on February 23, 1889. His parents were Irish and his father ran a successful plumbing business. His formative years were spent at local parochial schools and then Kingston Academy, graduating in 1907. While at Kingston Academy he was recognized as a skillful orator and debater. Before graduating, Loughran took a job as a reporter for the Kingston Daily Freeman where he first publicly exhibited the clear and accurate writings that would turn out to be a hallmark characteristic of his work on the bench.
Loughran’s experience covering the action at the local courthouse played an integral part in his decision to go to law school. While his goals were clear, his path to becoming an attorney was left to faith and at age 18, with the urging of his local pastor, Loughran abandoned his desire to attend Cornell University and enrolled at Fordham Law School for what was to become a long, glorious, and mutually prosperous relationship.
Although Loughran got lost his first day trying to find the school on Vesey Street in lower Manhattan and ended up taking a train uptown to the Polo Grounds, once he arrived it was not long before he became the focal point of fellow classmates, in a class that would also produce another Chief Judge of the Court Appeals, Albert Conway.3 Judge Loughran’s reputation as a gentlemen rivaled his ability to analyze and break down any fact pattern. If this were not enough, he was also blessed with a photographic memory that enabled him to quote and cite most any case he studied. He graduated in 1911, summa cum laude, and shortly thereafter the school’s officials offered him a post on the teaching faculty when he was only 23.
Upon graduating and before teaching at Fordham, he opened a practice in Kingston where he served as lawyer, clerk, and typist. As a devout Catholic, his practice was run on the highest moral foundation. As a fellow student and later to become long time Dean of Fordham Law School, Ignatius Wilkinson aptly noted, “He was not a man who had one set of principles for Sundays and another and entirely different set for the other six days of the week.”4 His reputation as a gentleman and his tenacity for hard work enabled him quickly to succeed as a solo practitioner and led him to enter into a partnership with County Judge Joseph M. Fowler under the firm name Fowler and Loughran.
Meanwhile, in 1915 Loughran married Cornelia Brodhead, a member of a well-respected family in Kingston. On August 16, 1916, they had their only child, John Brodhead Loughran. Like his father, John graduated from Fordham Law School and had a successful career as a lawyer. He had six children of his own, one of which, Cornelia, also attended Fordham Law School.
While taking great joy in parenting, Loughran also continued expertly to balance his devotion to his family, practice, and teaching with dedication and attentiveness. During this time period he actively worked on writing textbooks and publishing law review articles.5 Loughran continued to excel at everything he did and his capabilities soon led him to become counsel to other attorneys. He extended his practice to New York City, appearing often and successfully before the Court of Appeals. At the same time, he was winning the praise of his students and fellow faculty as a professor at Fordham Law School. In his 18 years on the faculty, he taught a broad array of courses including Agency, Carriers, Contracts, Criminal Law, Evidence, New York Practice, Pleading, Quasi Contracts, Sales, Suretyship, and Torts.
Loughran’s skills, despite his modesty, did not go unnoticed. He had taught thousands of students and before sending them out to practice made a mark on them all. In time, his reputation led to his nomination and election in 1930 to the Supreme Court in the Third Judicial District. As a trial judge he was instantly admired for his speed and efficiency. His abilities were soon noted by Governor Lehman, a fellow Democrat, who appointed him to the Court of Appeals on May 21, 1934 when Judge Henry T. Kellogg resigned. When his interim appointment was set to expire, his former students gathered and helped him win election to a 14-year term. With their support, he was subsequently endorsed by both parties and most bar associations and was easily elected as an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals in November 1934. Judge Loughran’s gentle demeanor, brilliant prose, and exceptional understanding of the law were once again acknowledged when Republican Governor Thomas E. Dewey reached across party lines and appointed him Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in 1945. This was a temporary post to fill the vacancy left by the death of Chief Judge Irving Lehman. However, in November 1946 after again being endorsed by all parties, Loughran was elected to a new 14-year term as Chief Judge.
Dedicated as he was to judicial duties, Loughran never forgot his roots and remained active within the community. He served as the Director of the State of New York National Bank of Kingston from 1938 to his death in 1953. Fordham bestowed an honorary LL.D. degree on him in 1925 and then gave him a gold medal Bene Merenti in 1934 to recognize his outstanding dedication to teaching. He also received the first Fordham Alumni Medal of Achievement in 1952 and had been honored for his distinguished service in the field of Christian achievement when he received the Crusader’s Shield award by the Holy Cross Club of Eastern New York in 1941. His work and respect for his heritage was recognized when he received the Gold Medal from the Irish Historical Society in 1950. He was also awarded honorary LL.D. degrees from St. John’s University in 1935, Syracuse University in 1946, both Hobart and William Smith College and Siena College in 1948, and Manhattan College in 1951. The Association of the Bar of the City of New York granted him honorary membership on 1949.
As Chief Judge of the State, Loughran was selected to a five-person panel to investigate how to simplify appellate practice as part of the First Conference of Chief Justices in 1949, and from 1950 to 1952 he served as Chairman of the Conference. His work on the council was directly related to his efforts to help reduce the delay in the New York State Court System. As Chief Judge, he proposed and implemented several procedures geared toward relieving the heavy case loads for judges while helping to streamline cases and appeals. During his tenure as Chief Judge he also served as an advisor in the drafting of the Uniform Commercial Code. In 1952, at the request of Governor Dewey, his salary as Chief Judge was raised to $35,000 with $5,000 for expenses, making him the highest paid judge in the country, surpassing Chief Judge Vinson of the United States Supreme Court.
Throughout his 41 volumes of the New York Reports, Judge Loughran consistently exhibited a desire to protect the common man. In 1935, the Court in Matter of Social Investigator Eligibles Assn. v. Taylor (268 NY 233), was faced with the issue as to whether the commissioner of public welfare improperly offered temporary jobs to welfare recipients instead of those who took and passed the civil service exam. In writing the majority opinion and reversing the courts below, Judge Loughran wrote that the current economic conditions and “warfare with unemployment” warrant these carefully designed measures that offer those determined to be in dire need the “bounty of work needed to sustain life.” Although the order found no conflict between this practice and the civil service laws because public policy and not nepotism was at issue, he acknowledged that different times may not justify the same result.
Loughran was charged with writing a very controversial 4-3 decision in Matter of Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. New York State Labor Relations Bd. (280 NY2d 194 ). In 1937, the state legislature, in an exercise of police power added to the Labor Law what was commonly known as the “little Wagner Act.” This act was modeled after the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), to protect the organization of labor and deter unfair labor practices. Section 700 of the Labor Law set forth a finding that “[u]nder prevailing economic conditions individual employees do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract.” To the extent that the NLRA did not cover intrastate activities, the little Wagner Act was passed to fill that void. However, because the traditional labor law definition of “employee” did not cover white collar workers, Metropolitan Life refused to negotiate with insurance agents who formed their own collective unit. Leading the four-member majority, Judge Loughran ruled that the little Wagner Act contained a broader definition of the word “employee” than was found in other parts of the Labor Law. He was lauded as a champion to the labor movement for his ability to comprehend the new act and for not falling victim to outmoded interpretations of the labor laws. To the extent that further relief was sought by the parties, Judge Loughran used his infamous judicial restraint and deferred to the findings of the State Labor Relations Board.
As a jurist and a scholar, Loughran was often admired for his ability to take a progressive and practical stance in relation to the ever-changing times. Just as he recognized the plight of the unemployed and the working man during the great depression, he was able to identify the pains felt by New York’s residents during the war. Thus when a County questioned the constitutionality of Military Law ‘ 245 (1), he was well suited to answer that challenge. The statute at issue required employers to pay its employees who were called to military duty for the first 30 days of their service. The statute set forth various other protections as well. However, when an employee of Broome County was called up from reserves to be in active military duty for a year, the County denied his request for 30 days pay. The lower court agreed with the County, concluding that such pay constituted a gift prohibited under the State Constitution. Judge Loughran writing for a unanimous court, reversed and held the statute constitutional (Hoyt v. County of Broome, 285 NY 402 ). To the dismay of local governmental agencies across the State, Judge Loughran found the statute valid based on what was not a gratuity or incentive to enlist but a social contract based “upon the fidelity of services rendered for the state through its political subdivisions” (285 NY at 406).
In another matter that brought joy to the people and showed great deference to governmental agencies, Judge Loughran led a unanimous court in vacating a stay of a Public Service Commission order that Consolidated Edison rates be temporarily reduced by 10% (Matter of Consolidated Edison Co. of New York v. Maltbie, (299 NY 172 ). With his soft approach, Judge Loughran responded to the certified question of the Appellate Division as follows: “[t]he answers to these misgivings is to be found, we think, in the construction which this court put upon section 114 [of the Public Service Law] in Matter of Bronx Gas & Elec. Co. v. Maltbie” (299 NY at 176). With his zeal for fairness, he went on to state that the temporary rates as set by the Public Service Commissions should be afforded deference because once lifted the utility company could seek to recoup any losses in higher rates in the future.
Loughran’s writings demonstrate his thorough understanding of the law, a respect for other institutions and a pragmatic understanding of peoples’ needs. Despite his stature, he was humble, kind, and gentle. Although dedicated to his religion, he did not impose it on others nor did it interfere with his interpretation of the law.6 Just short of his twentieth year with the Court of Appeals, John T. Loughran suddenly passed away at the age of 64, on March 31, 1953, in his home, the result of a heart attack.
Dignitaries from around the State came to pay their respect when he was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Kingston. So many people turned out that the church was unable to accommodate them for the Mass that followed and 1,000 people ended up standing outside. The response to his death was truly a reflection on his gentle good manner and the respect he so duly bestowed on everyone he met.
Judge Loughran and his wife Cornelia Brodhead Loughran had one child, John Brodhead Loughran, who like his father went to Fordham Law School and had a successful career as an attorney. John Brodhead Loughran and his wife Sara Ann Loughran of Shelburne, Vermont, had six children: Cornelia Heather of Calabasas, California; Barbara Rabichaud of Northford, Connecticut; Marianne Balczuk of Burlington, Vermont; John Thomas Loughran of Shelburne, Vermont; Virginia Loughran of Shelburne, Vermont; and Robert Loughran of Clifton Park, New York. Virginia and Cornelia are lawyers and both graduated from Fordham Law School. Judge Loughran is also survived by eleven great-grandchildren.
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, Opinions and Briefs – Lessons From Loughran (1970).
In Memoriam, 305 NY vii (May 18, 1953).
“John T. Loughran-An Appreciation,” 4 Fordham L. Rev. 167 (1935).
John T. Loughran (Court of Appeals Service: 1934-1953), http://www.courts.state.ny.us/history/bios/loughran_john.htm.
John T. Loughran 1889-1953, 22 Fordham L. Rev. xii (1953).
Memorial Tribute to John T. Loughran, Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Yearbook, p. 168 (1953).
Mulligan, Fiftieth Anniversary of Fordham University School of Law, 2 Cath. Law 207 (1956).
New York Times Obituary, April 1, 1953.
Taylor, Eminent Members of the Bench and Bar of New York (San Francisco, 1943), p. 13.
Published Writings Include:
Some Reflections on the Role of Judicial Precedent, 22 Fordham L. Rev. 1 (1953).
Forward for Henry Cohen & Arthur Karger’s Powers of the New York Court of Appeals (2nd Ed. 1952).
The Argument of an Appeal in the Court of Appeals, 12 Fordham L. Rev. 1 (1943).
Carmody, Treatise on New York Practice With Forms (Revised by John T. Loughran 2nd Ed. 1929).
Cases on Evidence: Selected from the Reports of the State of New York (Baker, Voorhis & Co. 1926).
Pain Against Packard, 3 Fordham L. Rev. 35 (1917).
The Common Carrier of Goods: Its Liability in New York, 3 Fordham L. Rev. 111 (1916).
Modern American Law, Volume X: Evidence (Blackstone Institute 1916).
The True Presumption of Death in New York, 2 Fordham L. Rev. 1 (1915).
Keener, Selection of Cases on the Law of Contracts (Maurice Wormser and John T. Loughran 2nd ed 1914).
- Remarks by Solicitor-General Wendell P. Brown, Proceedings in the Court of Appeals in Reference to the Death of Hon. John T. Loughran (305 NY vii, xv [May 18, 1953]).
- As recited by Ignatius Wilkinson, former Dean of Fordham Law School, in the article “John T. Loughran – An Appreciation” (4 Fordham L. Rev. 167, 184 ).
- Judge Conway (1889-1969) served on the bench with Judge Loughran from 1940 to 1953 and was Chief Judge from 1955 to 1959.
- Proceedings in the Court of Appeals in Reference to the Death of Hon. John T. Loughran (305 NY at xiv).
- Loughran published the following three articles between 1915 and 1917: “The True Presumption of Death in New York,” 2 Fordham L. Rev. 1 (1915); “The Common Carrier of Goods: Its Liability in New York,” 3 Fordham L. Rev. 111 (1916); “Pain Against Packard,” 3 Fordham L. Rev. 35 (1917).
- In People v. Solomon, he wrote in an unanimous decision that casual betting on licensed prize fights was not illegal (296 NY 220 ).