Lawrence Henry Cooke




Associate Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, 1975-1978 / Chief Judge, 1979-1984


by Joyce and Lou Adolfsen

In 1972, three Republicans won election to the Court of Appeals in the landslide victory of President Richard M. Nixon, thus defeating Lawrence H. Cooke in his initial bid for a seat on the Court. Two years later, however, Judge Cooke, endorsed by the Democratic and Liberal Parties, was elected to the Court of Appeals with the highest vote of any of the five candidates.1

Judge Cooke’s popularity was well earned. He made sure that all who appeared before him were treated with fairness, which he regarded as synonymous with justice. As a Judge on the Court of Appeals, his benchmark of fairness led him to become a vigorous proponent of invoking the State Constitution to grant rights to New Yorkers that the United States Supreme Court chose not to allow to the citizens of all states under the United States Constitution. He used his position of Chief Judge to reduce court backlogs, promote civil rights, and champion an expanding role for women in the law and in the court system.

Judge Cooke arose before dawn each day and spent long hours at his work, but always made time for his family and for the people he served. He never declined an invitation to speak at a dinner or attend a barbeque, no matter how small the group. It was his way of showing respect for the citizens of his community and of his State. It was not uncommon for Judge Cooke to drive six or eight hours each way to attend a gathering of volunteer firefighters, a group to which he maintained a lifelong dedication. All who knew him understood that he would use the powers given to him by the State, first as a trial judge, then as an appellate judge, and ultimately as the Chief Judge of the State, to dispense justice fairly, honestly, and wisely.

Indeed, Lawrence H. Cooke traveled through life following the sage advice of his father, a County Court judge. “When in doubt,” said his father, “always take the high road.” Born and raised in the country, a native son of the village of Monticello, Lawrence Cooke’s journey along the high road took him to the pinnacle of his profession, the position of Chief Judge of the State of New York. And because he brought with him on his journey a keen intellect, a dedication to hard work, a generosity of spirit, a genuine humility, and an unfailing desire to always do the right thing, he became in his life, and remained even after his death, one of the most respected jurists in the State and one of the most beloved men in his community.

His Early Life

Lawrence H. Cooke was born in Monticello, New York on October 15, 1914, the younger son of George L. Cooke and Mary Elizabeth Pond Cooke.2 While his mother, a Mt. Holyoke graduate and teacher of Latin and mathematics, came from an academically accomplished New England family that traced its roots in this country to the 1630s, his father, a Monticello native, and the son of a shoemaker, was a self-made man who worked as a school teacher for seven dollars a week to earn enough money to put himself through Albany Law School.

George L. Cooke was elected Sullivan County District Attorney in 1909 and reelected in 1912, endorsed by the Democratic and Republican parties as well as Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party. Then in 1926, while the local Ku Klux Klan burned crosses to make an issue of his Catholic faith, George L. Cooke ran for and was elected to the position of County Judge, Surrogate and Children’s Court Judge of Sullivan County, an office he held for the next 22 years.

The couple had two sons, George Bradford Cooke, who went on to become a lawyer and educator, and his younger brother, Lawrence. The senior George invested his sons with a strong work ethic, the highest of moral values and a desire always to do the right thing. Throughout his life, Lawrence Cooke’s father was his role model. Even when Lawrence had a lifetime of his own experiences, and his accomplishments by objective measure surpassed those of his father, Lawrence, often to the bemusement of family and the young lawyers who clerked for him, harkened back to his father’s words of advice: “when in doubt, always take the high road.”

Growing up in Monticello, Lawrence studied hard and excelled in school. He spent his summers with his family on Sackett Lake, near Monticello, in a house that had neither cooking nor bathroom facilities, but provided young Lawrence with some of his fondest childhood memories. As a hobby that began in his early years and continued well into his adult life, he raised and exhibited chickens-Black Jersey Giants and White Plymouth Rocks. He also raised Rhode Island Reds, champion hens he entered into egg-laying contests sponsored by agricultural schools in the northeast. At one time he had the leading two-year-old pen in the country, which unfortunately perished in a fire at a competition in Farmingdale, New York. He also raised champion beagles, Court Crier and Court Courtesy, who won prizes in American Kennel Club competitions and were featured on separate covers of Hounds & Hunting magazine. Also beginning in these early years, Lawrence tended a flower and vegetable garden, winning accolades for his beautiful zinnias and cultivating a particular fondness for rhubarb, which in later years he delighted in offering to his family and friends.


While Lawrence was firmly rooted in the country, amidst the rolling hills of Sullivan County, his academic strengths led him to further his education in the city. After graduation from Monticello High School as Salutatorian of the class of 1931, he entered Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. from which he graduated in 1935, cum laude, at 20 years of age. Throughout his four years at Georgetown he actively participated in a wide variety of organizations, journals, societies and clubs, ultimately serving as the president of his senior class.3

Although Lawrence began his law studies at Harvard Law School, he left within days to attend his father’s alma mater, Albany Law School which, in his father’s view, provided a better education for a young man seeking to establish a law practice within New York State. While his father’s advice may have been pragmatic, Lawrence’s decision to follow it and transfer to Albany Law School brought him a far more important benefit. For it was in Albany that he met, courted and later married Alice McCormack, the daughter of the Albany Postmaster who was also a prominent Albany dentist. Their November 25, 1939, wedding took place in St. Vincent dePaul’s Church on Madison Avenue in Albany, and was followed by a reception at the Ten Eyck Hotel, and a honeymoon at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.4 After spending the first year of married life in a rented flat in Monticello, the couple moved to a house on Broadway, in Monticello, which would be their home for more than 60 years. Indeed, it was in that house that they raised their three children, Edward, George and Mary Lauren.

Law Practice and a Life of Public Service

After his 1938 graduation from Albany Law School and his return to Monticello, Lawrence joined the law offices of John D. Lyons, a prominent trial lawyer in Sullivan County. Once admitted to the Bar, he moved into the Monticello Masonic Building where he hung out his shingle to try his hand at trial and estates practice.

But for Lawrence H. Cooke, public service was in his blood and he viewed the responsibilities of a citizen as extending well beyond home and office and deep into the community. In 1939, Lawrence joined the Monticello Fire Department and remained an active and dedicated volunteer fireman for 61 years. During that time, he served as President of the Monticello Fire Department, the Sullivan County Volunteer Fireman’s Association, and the Hudson Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association. His loyalty persisted to the end, several months before his death and much to the consternation of the medical staff, Judge Cooke checked himself out of Community General Hospital in Harris, New York, to serve as Grand Marshal of the annual Hudson Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association parade in Monticello.

In 1945, Lawrence Cooke was elected a Supervisor of the Town of Thompson, serving as Chairman of the Sullivan County Board of Supervisors in 1947 and 1948. For a number of years he also served as Town Attorney for the Towns of Neversink and Forestburgh. Then in 1953, he was elected to the office his father had once filled, County Judge, Surrogate and Children’s Court Judge of Sullivan County. He was reelected in 1959 with the backing of the Democratic, Republican, and Liberal Parties.

In 1961, Lawrence Cooke was elected a Justice of the Supreme Court in the Third Judicial District. Although a lifelong Democrat, in 1968 he was appointed by Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller to the Appellate Division, Third Department, where he served until his 1974 election to the Court of Appeals. Judge Cooke first ran for the Court of Appeals in 1972, but was defeated by Republican candidates Domenick Gabrielli, Sol Wachtler and Hugh R. Jones in the Nixon landslide. But two years later, in 1974, Judge Cooke was elected to the Court of Appeals with the highest vote of any of the five candidates. Then, on January 2, 1979, Governor Hugh L. Carey appointed him to the newly enhanced position of Chief Judge.5

As a Jurist

Judge Cooke dedicated his professional life to the law and to the principle of fairness and justice for all. “After all,” Judge Cooke told the Sunday Record, “fairness is just a synonym for justice.”6

Fairness was without doubt the motivating factor in Judge Cooke’s reliance on the State Constitution, which afforded greater protection to the rights and liberties of the citizens of New York State than those given by the Federal Constitution, both in the civil and in the criminal context. In the civil context, writing for the majority in Sharrock v. Dell Buick-Cadillac, Inc. (45 NY2d 152 [1978]), Judge Cooke found that provisions of the Lien Law which authorized a garageman’s ex parte sale of an automobile failed to comport with the traditional notions of procedural due process embodied in the State Constitution. In striking down the Lien Law provisions, the Judge Cooke relied upon the unique language of the due process clause of the State Constitution and the long history of due process protections afforded our State’s citizens, as well as fundamental principles of federalism. Similarly, in the criminal context, in People v. Isaacson (44 NY2d 511 [1978]), Judge Cooke looked to the due process clause of the State Constitution to bar prosecution in a case where police conduct, viewed in its totality, revealed a “brazen and continuing pattern in disregard of fundamental rights.” In refusing to sanction the continuation of a prosecution under such circumstances, Judge Cooke wrote that “due process is our most fundamental principle of law and must be applied here. The administration of justice must be above reproach.”

Both as an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, and later as Chief, Judge Cooke also relied on the broader rights provided by the State Constitution to enhance an individual’s right to counsel in criminal cases. In Judge Cooke’s opinion in People v. Settles (46 NY2d 154 [1978]), the Court recognized that a defendant in a post-indictment, pre-arraignment custodial setting, has an indelible right to counsel under the State Constitution which may not be waived in the absence of an attorney. Less than a year later, in People v. Rogers (48 NY2d 167 [1979]), again in an opinion authored by Chief Judge Cooke, the Court held that once an attorney has entered the proceeding, a defendant in custody may not be further interrogated in the absence of counsel. Rather than conferring an undue advantage, the Court recognized that the presence of an attorney “serves to equalize the positions of the accused and sovereign, mitigating the coercive influence of the state and rendering it less overwhelming.” And in People v. Skinner (52 NY2d 24 [1980]), the Court relied upon the State Constitution when it held, in an opinion written by Chief Judge Cooke, that an individual who has obtained counsel in a matter under investigation may not be interrogated in a non-custodial setting after counsel has instructed the police not to question the accused in counsel’s absence.

Just as fairness was fundamental to Judge Cooke’s view of the justice system, so too were openness of courtroom and freedom of the press. Thus, in 1977, Judge Cooke dissented in Gannett v. De Pasquale (43 NY2d 370 [1977]), a case in which the Court’s majority voted to uphold a trial court’s ruling to exclude the press and the public from a pretrial hearing in a murder prosecution on the basis of possible prejudice to the defendants. While acknowledging the necessity of courtroom closure in cases involving the protection of witnesses or victims, Judge Cooke found that closure in the absence of a finding of necessity is unwarranted and threatens First Amendment interests. Moreover, he wrote, “suspicion enshrouds whatever determination is not freely aired in a forum open to public inspection, scrutiny, and sometimes, even scorn. The public has the right to know the Constitution protects equally each person accused of a crime, and has the right to scrutinize the effectiveness of police agencies in coping with criminal activity” (43 NY2d at 385).

Judge Cooke’s support for a free press was unfailing. In 1984, he authored Beach v. Shanley (62 NY2d 241 [1984]), a seminal free speech decision, holding that New York State’s Shield Law protected a reporter’s right to keep sources confidential even where the very disclosure of the information by the confidential source may have been a criminal act. Judge Cooke strongly believed in the ideas expressed by Governor Rockefeller when he approved the legislation and quoted the Governor when upholding the law. “Freedom of the press is one of the foundations upon which our form of government is based. A representative democracy, such as ours, cannot exist unless there is a free press both willing and able to keep the public informed of all the news” (62 NY2d at 249).

From his earliest years on the appellate bench, Judge Cooke was particularly concerned about protecting the rights of women. In the August 1974 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, the Judge was quoted as stating that, when it comes to rape, “women are outside the effective protection of the law and criminals know it.” This startling statement by Judge Cooke, then on the Appellate Division, Third Department, summed up a situation which many regarded as a national scandal. Judge Cooke urged that the prosecution of rape cases be allowed to proceed without corroboration. That became the law and remains the law today.

As the Chief Judge

On April 1, 1978, as a result of broad court reform legislation, the title of Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals was changed to add the title Chief Judge of the State of New York, and the Chief’s role was expanded to include administrative responsibilities beyond those of the high court. On January 2, 1979, after the retirement of Chief Judge Charles D. Breitel, Governor Hugh L. Carey appointed Judge Cooke, then the Court’s junior judge, to serve as the next Chief Judge.

Some thought that the legislation giving new powers to the Chief Judge would not change the status quo or alter the systems so firmly in place. But it should have come as no surprise that Lawrence Cooke would bring his personal standards of hard work and fairness to his new position and that he would try to solve the problems of the unified court system-and there were several-from a high moral ground.

The first major problem Judge Cooke confronted was an imbalance in the workload of judges across the state, resulting in a serious backlog in the courts of the New York City metropolitan area and of other large cities including Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, with a concomitant under-utilization of judges in the more rural and less populated upstate areas. This backlog plagued both civil and criminal parts. In October 1979, guided by the principle that “justice delayed is justice denied,” Judge Cooke announced an experimental program, temporarily reassigning rural and upstate judges to the more congested downstate courtrooms in civil cases. Needless to say, this plan met with resistance by outspoken upstate judges who had no interest in temporary relocation. However, within months of plan’s inception, the backlog showed signs of improving, and on November 3, 1980, the Office of Court Administration announced the reassignment would be extended to criminal parts as well.7

In addition, as Judge Cooke toured the courthouses around the State, he found some judges working short days and taking long vacations. Thus, along with the temporary reassignment, Judge Cooke also implemented a standard workday to begin at 9:30 a.m. for all judges and imposed a uniform four weeks of vacation (a cutback from the 12 weeks some judges had been able to accumulate). He also implemented a plan to clear the backlog by expanding arbitration and establishing mediation in the courts. This, too, proved to be successful.

Chief Judge Cooke also saw unfairness in the system used downstate to elevate some Civil Court and Criminal Court judges to Supreme Court as Acting Supreme Court Justices with the commensurate upgrades in salary and status. To “right” the perceived “wrong” of favored treatment for the few, and perhaps without realizing he might be viewed as exercising powers beyond those contemplated by the court reform legislation, Judge Cooke developed a rotation system which drew a prompt and strong outcry from judges as well as the Legal Aid Society and the District Attorneys affected by the proposed change. In the view of the opponents of the plan, “fairness” was not the issue. Rather, they took the position that the Civil and Criminal Court judges who had been “temporarily” elevated to Supreme Court were among the “best” and that in their new positions they had developed expertise that enabled them to smoothly and efficiently carry on the duties of the higher court. Once the lines were firmly drawn, the dispute led to a lawsuit in which Robert Morgenthau, the District Attorney of New York County, challenged Judge Cooke’s authority to change this system without consulting the Administrative Board of the Courts and without obtaining approval of the Court of Appeals as required by the State Constitution.

The case, Matter of Morgenthau v. Cooke, worked its way through the court system.

Special Term dismissed the petition and denied injunctive relief, finding that, while the Chief Administrator had authority to implement the plan, the District Attorney was not aggrieved by the plan and did not have standing to object to it. The Appellate Division, First Department, reversed, converted the proceeding to a declaratory judgment action, held the District Attorney had standing and was entitled to judgment because the plan was void as promulgated. The appeal from the Appellate Division order, taken as of right, presented the Court of Appeals with a novel question inasmuch as the Court of Appeals might be viewed as having a disqualifying ex officio interest which could be a basis for the entire Court’s recusal. Thus, at the outset, the Court explained that it would proceed under the “Rule of Necessity” and hear the appeal because there was no other judicial body to which the appeal could be referred (56 NY2d 24, 29 n 3 [1982]). The Court then held that the Chief Administrator did not have the authority to implement the rotation plan absent standards and policies which should have, but had not, been established (56 NY2d at 33).

To Judge Cooke, the Court’s directive in Matter of Morgenthau v. Cooke was a life lesson. This lesson learned, Judge Cooke moved forward to make many additional, significant changes during his tenure as Chief Judge. Under Judge Cooke’s leadership, the Office of Court Administration streamlined classifications for non-judicial employees, reducing over 1,500 titles to slightly more than 300. It also furthered the practice of filling positions of non-judicial employees on the basis of merit. It created state supervised community dispute resolution centers and encouraged service of retired judges as hearing officers. It also established annual education and training programs for all town and village justices across the state. In an effort to curtail past abuses, sheriff’s juries were abolished and a system was created to remove the appointment of conservators from the political arena. With Judge Cooke’s strong support, still photography and television were introduced into appellate courts, and uniform rules were adopted for all trial courts of record in the State. Judge Cooke also established the Court Facilities Task Force to study the physical condition of courthouses and created jury management programs for greater juror comfort in those courthouses.

In May 1980, Judge Cooke joined three other judges on the Court in resigning from Albany’s University Club because it discriminated against women and in November 1980, in his capacity as Chief Judge, he approved an order directing the state’s 3,400 judges and 9,600 court employees not to conduct official business with clubs having discriminatory membership policies.8

Judge Cooke also put the power of the office of the Chief Judge behind his newly created New York State Task Force on Women in the Courts, whose report found that women had often been denied “equal justice, equal treatment and equal opportunity.”9 The Task Force became the catalyst for reform and the rooting out of gender bias among judges and lawyers. Based upon his longstanding concern for women’s issues, Judge Cooke was made an honorary member of the New York State Women’s Bar Association, a rare honor for a man.

For these and other changes, Lawrence Cooke was described as an innovator by Professor Vincent Bonventre of Albany Law School.10 According to Judge Joseph W. Bellacosa, Judge Cooke implemented “a fresh, vigorous, proactive style of judicial management. . . . It shook up the old system and flexed the new centralized managerial powers.”11 And his accomplishments were praised by Warren Burger, Chief Justice of the United States. “Ever since Lawrence Cooke became the highest judicial officer of the State of New York, and indeed even before that, he demonstrated his concern for improved management of the resources of the judicial system of his state. Yet improvement means change and advocates of change inevitably meet resistance. But resistance and apathy did not discourage Lawrence Cooke from pressing constantly to make the courts work better for the people of his state.”12

During his tenure as Chief Judge, Lawrence Cooke served as President of the National Center for State Courts and the Chair of the Conference of Chief Justices. In fact, he was the first person ever to hold those two positions simultaneously. Then, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the first Board of Directors of the national State Justice Institute, which was to provide grants to state and local court systems.

As a Man

Lawrence Cooke was legendary in the courthouse for the hours he kept. It was “reported” that he arrived at 4:00 a.m., long before dawn, and returned to the building after dinner to work late into the night. After Judge Cooke’s death, Chief Judge Judith Kaye, when recounting the hour at which Judge Cooke’s workday began, would say “I am told” for neither she, nor any of the daytime court staff, arrived early enough to catch a glimpse of Judge Cooke’s predawn arrival at the Court of Appeals Hall.13

Judge Cooke was also legendary in the community for a practice he began as a trial judge. At the conclusion of each term of court, Judge Cooke would write personal letters to all sitting jurors, thanking them for their service and expressing his hope that it had been positive experience. Similarly, Judge Cooke was well known for sending meticulously handwritten notes and cards to members of the community, as well as to attorneys and judges around the state, congratulating them on achievements, extending his good wishes for a speedy recovery, or simply letting them know he was thinking of them.14

Judge Cooke’s hard work was tempered by a lighter side. He was a wonderful raconteur, telling humorous anecdotes about the lives of people he met during his travels around the state. Many a humorous anecdote began “There was a fellow from Schoharie County…” In his video memoir, Lawrence Cooke recounts a story from his days as the junior Supreme Court Justice in the Third Judicial District. During the summer of 1962, he was assigned to a part for uncontested matrimonial cases. In those days, adultery was one of the few grounds for divorce. He recalled that in one such case, a bakery deliveryman was testifying on behalf of his sister who was seeking a divorce from her unfaithful husband. The delivery man testified that he rang the doorbell of a house on his route and saw his sister’s husband in a state of undress. “What did you say?” the lawyer asked. The guileless witness replied, “I said, ‘I’m the Friehofer Bakery man. Do you want any rolls or cake?'”15

Although he lived his entire life in a resort area of the Catskill Mountains, he rarely took a vacation. As the story goes, during one summer recess of the court, Judge Cooke agreed, albeit reluctantly, to take a summer vacation. Each day, dressed in his traditional trousers, shirt and tie, suspenders, sport jacket and white straw Panama hat, he wrote postcards to his colleagues across the state. One day, however, he removed his shoes and socks while sitting on a chair at the beach writing postcards, unaware that the tops of his feet, unaccustomed to the sunlight, were turning lobster red. According to his son, Edward, Judge Cooke returned to the bench after that vacation wearing sneakers without laces on his sunburned feet.16

After the Court

When Judge Cooke reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1984, he stepped down from the bench. He rejoined the private practice of law, as “of counsel” to the Albany firm of Couch, White, Brenner, Howard and Feigenbaum. In the years following his retirement from the Court, Judge Cooke also chaired the Governor’s Judicial Screening Committee. He served as a mediator in complex commercial matters, testified as an expert witness on New York law in an Australian courtroom, and traveled to Hawaii as a legal consultant. Judge Cooke joined the faculty of Pace Law School where, as their Scholar in Residence, he taught for three years. He was also a frequent guest lecturer at Albany Law School as well as a founding board member of two of Albany Law School’s journals, the State Constitutional Commentary of the Albany Law Review and the Government Law and Policy Journal.

Among the many awards Judge Cooke received were the American Judges Award of Merit, the Jewish Lawyers Guild’s Golda Meir Memorial Award, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association’s Annual Law Day Award and the Georgetown University Alumni Association’s John Carroll Award. Judge Cooke also received honorary LL.D degrees from Siena College and Union University, Albany Law School as well as honorary Doctor of Law degrees from New York Law School, Brooklyn Law School and Pace Law School.17

Courthouse Renamed

On September 21, 1997, a beautiful but chilly fall day, the Sullivan County courthouse was rededicated as the Lawrence H. Cooke Sullivan County Courthouse. Earlier in the day, a portrait of Judge Cooke was unveiled inside the main courtroom. Judges from across the state and hundreds of local residents came to honor Judge Cooke who, in his remarks, made quite clear that although the name of the courthouse had changed, its ownership had not, “for the courts belong to the people.” And, as he continued, he spoke to one of his lifelong themes: “For this reason alone, and with proper exceptions, we must swing the doors wide open so that the clear light of day will illuminate them and that citizens can see our system of jurisprudence in operation, appreciate it, improve it, and assay the operations of those in charge. Not only should there be unobtrusive photography, but freedom of the press must continue to be allowed to purify the judicial functions of government.”18 And he closed with his most fundamental view, expressing the hope that his name on the courthouse, his portrait on the wall, “would serve as a reminder that each litigant be treated fairly.” In keeping with his sense of humor, Judge Cooke also concluded by observing the local undertaker, Mr. Kenny, hiding behind a tree. To the delight of the crowd, he chided: “don’t come looking for me, Mr. Kenny, because I’m not ready to do business with you yet.”19

Judge Cooke died on August 17, 2000, and is buried in the Rock Ridge Cemetery on Broadway, in Monticello.20 At his funeral Mass, held in St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Monticello, New York, an overflow crowd saw him off. Among those coming to bid goodbye to Judge Cooke and to speak at his funeral was Judith S. Kaye, the Chief Judge of the State of New York at the time of Judge Cooke’s death. Judge Kaye, also born and raised in Monticello, knew and admired Judge Cooke from the time he and Mrs. Cooke shopped in her family’s clothing store. Among the many wonderful things Judge Kaye remembered about Judge Cooke were the numerous stories of “his inexhaustible kindness and sensitivity, how he touched our lives in some uniquely meaningful way, with a birthday card, a holiday greeting, a telephone call, a note or postcard, an appointment to a committee, a chat at the local diner over a piece of pie, an evening with cherished fellow volunteer firemen.” As Judge Kaye put it, “he wasn’t just born with the love of his community, he earned it every single day.” Indeed, one of her favorite stories, which she recounted that day, involved Barney and Ethel who operated the service station in Accord, New York, where Judge Cooke would often stop for gas and ice cream on the trip between Albany and Monticello. Even as his license plate moved up from County Court to Supreme Court to Court of Appeals Number One, he was always known as “Larry” to Barney and Ethel. The town court justice, by contrast, they called “Judge.”21

The New York Times obituary of August 19, 2000, commented that Judge Cooke “agreed that his country-style informality and small-town involvement … led some people to regard him as something of a hayseed.” But, in his view, his critics underestimated him:

“I think some people want to feel I was a rustic country bumpkin, but I never thought so. I went to proper schools. I had been around, and I felt that I could hold my own in any company. But I never lorded over anybody. I felt you could be efficient and still be nice.”

As Chief Judge of the State, Judge Cooke took his responsibility as a duty, never as a badge, and prided himself, not on how important he was, but rather on how he could use the great power given him by the state to serve its people.


Lawrence Henry Cooke and Alice McCormack Cooke had three children, Edward McCormack Cooke, George L. Cooke II, and Mary Lauren Cooke Opie.

Edward McCormack Cooke graduated from Georgetown University and Albany Law School and is a practicing attorney in Monticello, New York. He is married to Colleen Sennett, who is an elementary school teacher in the Monticello School District. Edward and Colleen have three children, Lawrence H. Cooke II, Austin Cooke, and Meghan Cooke. Lawrence H. Cooke II is a graduate of Georgetown University and Georgetown University School of Law and is a practicing attorney in New York City. He is married to Catherine O’Brien, also a Georgetown graduate. They have three children, Sennett Elizabeth Cooke, Edward McCormack Cooke II, and Catherine Rose Cooke. Austin Cooke is a Vice President at Sapient Corp. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Austin is married to Susan Johnson, and they have a son, Zachary Johnson Cooke, and a daughter, Alexis Sennett Cooke. Meghan Cooke, a graduate of Georgetown University, is a Vice President at MBNA Europe and currently resides in London, England. She is married to Michael Connolly.

George L. Cooke, II is the County Clerk of Sullivan County. He is married to Mary “Karen” Kelly, who is the Executive Director of the Child Care Council of Sullivan County. George and Karen have three children, Alice Kelly Cooke, Lauren Cooke and Courtney Cooke Edelman. Alice “Kelly” Cooke is a teacher in the Pine Bush, New York school system. Lauren Cooke is an interior designer working in Manhattan. Courtney Cooke is married to Paul Edelman, Jr., one of the owners/operators of The Homestead Restaurant in Monticello, New York. Courtney and “JR” have a daughter, Alexandria Edelman.

Mary “Lauren” Cooke Opie taught school in Brookline, Massachusetts before her children were born, and now is a Junior Court Analyst in the New York State court system working in Cohoes. “Lauren” is married to Richard Opie, and they have three children, Alice, Guy and Catherine Opie. Alice Opie graduated from Georgetown University, and is presently residing in Boston. Guy Opie is working and studying in California; Catherine Opie is working and studying in Colorado.


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.


Sources Consulted

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The New York Red Book, Eighty Seventh Edition 1983-1984, Biography of Lawrence H. Cooke, George A. Mitchell, Editor, Williams Press, Inc., Albany, NY, publisher, pp. 386-387.

Proceedings of the Swearing-in Ceremony for Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke, 46 NY2d vii, January 2, 1979.

Schofield Zdeb, The Chief: Lawrence H. Cooke, Former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, Albany Law School Magazine, Spring 1995.

Slyke, Judge Kaye: Cooke Served Brilliantly, The Legislative Gazette, Albany, NY, September 11, 2000, at 3.

Sullivan County Historical Society, History Maker Award to The Honorable Lawrence H. Cooke, Annual Meeting Installation and Achievement Awards Dinner, October 14, 1998, (program book [includes a short biography of Hon. Lawrence H. Cooke]).

Sullivan County Historical Society, Historical Society Museum and Archives, 265 Main Street, Hurleyville, NY 12747 (brochure [AThe Lawrence H. Cooke Room holds a collection of memorabilia that traces his illustrious career from county lawyer to Chief Judge of the State Court of Appeals.@]).

“Taking the High Road with the Honorable Lawrence H. Cooke,@ Volume I, Legal and Professional Career; Volume II, Family and Personal Recollections, videotaped interview with Dorothy Shapiro, August 1, 1990 (VR Productions, 2000).

The Times Herald Record, Middletown, NY, Lawrence H. Cooke, 1914-2000, series of articles, Friday, August 18, 2000, at 4-5.

A Tribute to Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke, 58 Albany L Rev 1 (1994).

Waddell, Beloved Judge Commemorated, Sullivan County Democrat, January 2, 2001, online edition

Wechsler, A Merging of Man and Monument, Sunday Record, The Times Herald Record, September 21, 1997, pp. 7-9 (includes The Quality of Justice, Judge Cooke’s remarks at the rededication of the courthouse).

Wechsler, AJudge Cooke Immortalized, Courthouse Now Bears His Name,@ The Times Herald Record, Middletown, NY, September 22, 1997, at 3.

Yakin, Dignitaries, Just Folks Take Time to Honor Judge Cooke, The Times Herald Record, Middletown, NY, Monday, August 21, 2000, at 3.


Published Writings Include:

Tribute to Justice Stanley Mosk, 62 Albany L Rev 1219 (1998-1999).

Message from the Chair, State Constitutional Commentary, 59 Albany L Rev 1539 (1995-1996).

Free Press: Essential to Robust Debates, 10 Pace L Rev 1 (1990).

A New Reach for the Law: Remarks of Lawrence H. Cooke, NY St BJ, February 1988.

Dedication Dinner Address: Syracuse Law School Library, 36 Syracuse L Rev 927 (1985-1986).

IntroductionCSymposium on Alternatives to Litigation, 48 Albany L Rev 569 (1983-1984).

Mediation: A Boon or a Bust, 28 N.Y. L. Sch. L. Rev. 3 (1983-1984).

Keynote Address: International Perspectives on the Right to Privacy, Remarks of the Chief Judge of the State of New York, 2 Pace L Rev 231 (1982).

In Memoriam: Charles W. Froessel, 27 N.Y. L. Sch. L. Rev. 1065 (1981-1982).

The Highways and Byways of Dispute Resolution, 55 St. John’s L Rev 611 (1980-1981).

Waste Not, Want NotCA Consideration of Federal and State Jurisdiction, 49 Fordham L Rev 895 (1980-1981).

In Memoriam: John J. Murphy, 55 St. John’s L Rev xv (1980-1981).

IntroductionCDue Process and Appellate Review of Sentencing, 40 Brklyn L Rev 1143 (1973-1974).



  1. Jacob D. Fuchsberg, also a Democrat, was elected to the Court with the second highest vote. Justice Harold A. Stevens, endorsed by the Republican, Liberal and Conservative parties, ran a close third, but was defeated along with Republican Justice Louis Greenblott and Conservative Henry S. Mittendorf, Jr. (NY Times, Nov. 7, 1974, at 36, col 4; at 40, col 1; Nov. 8, 1974, at 1, col 8).
  2. Judge Cooke’s oral history in which he relates many details of his personal and professional life is preserved in a two-part videotaped interview with Dorothy Shapiro, titled ATaking the High Road with the Honorable Lawrence H. Cooke,@ Volume I, Legal and Professional Career and Volume II, Family and Personal Recollections, August 1, 1990.
  3. Georgetown University, Ye Domesday Booke for 1935.
  4. Wedding Announcement, The Wedding of the Postmaster’s Daughter, The Knickerbocker News, Albany, NY, Saturday, Nov. 25, 1939.
  5. NY Times, Jan. 3, 1979, at 1, col 1.
  6. Conway, Driving Judge Cooke: A Conversation with Judge Lawrence Cooke, Sunday Record, Middletown, NY, August 26, 1990, at 3-6.
  7. Beginning on October 31, 1979, the New York Times provided coverage of the plan, its critics and its successes (see e.g. NY Times, Oct. 31, 1979, Sec. 2, at 1, col 3; NY Times, Dec. 21, 1979, Sec. 2, at 2, col 4; NY Times, Nov. 3,1980, Sec. B, at 3, col 1).
  8. NY Times, May 31, 1980, at 27, col 1; NY Times, Nov. 25, 1980, Sec. B, at 9, col 2.
  9. Report of the New York Task Force on Women in the Courts, reprinted in Fordham Urban L.J. 1 (1986-87) (1986 Task Force Report).
  10. Vincent Martin Bonventre, Tribute to Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke, 1914-2000, 64 Albany L Rev 1 (2000); A Tribute to Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke, 58 Albany L Rev 1 (1994); See also Times Herald Record, Middletown, NY, Oct. 29, 1995, at 4, col 2.
  11. Joseph W. Bellacosa, Seriatim Reflections, A Quarter Century in Albany: A Period of Constructive Progress, NY St BJ 5, 6 (October 2000).
  12. Warren Berger, Lawrence Cooke: A Tireless Judicial Administrator, 53 Fordham L Rev 147 (1984).
  13. 95 NY2d xv.
  14. Several of Judge Cooke’s letters and the responses to those letters thanking him for his thoughtfulness and courtesy are preserved in a book of photographs and remembrances presented to the Judge by his former and then current staff and law clerks on the occasion of his retirement in 1984. Additional correspondence along with photographs are housed in the Lawrence H. Cooke Room of the Sullivan County Historical Society (see n 17, infra).
  15. Taking the High Road with the Honorable Lawrence H. Cooke; Vol. 1, Legal and Professional Career (see n 2, supra).
  16. Emerson, Case Not Closed Yet for Ex-Chief Judge, Sunday Record, Middletown, NY, February 14, 1988, at 4.
  17. The plaques for these and other honors and awards are housed in the Lawrence H. Cooke Room of the Sullivan County Historical Society, located at the Sullivan County Museum, Art and Cultural Center, 245 Main Street, Hurleyville, NY 12747.
  18. The Quality of Justice, Remarks of Lawrence H. Cooke, September 21, 1997, on the occasion of the Rededication of the Lawrence H. Cooke Courthouse. Reprinted in the program of the Annual Meeting, Installation and Achievement Awards Dinner of the Sullivan County Historical Society, October 14, 1998. Judge Cooke’s Remarks also appear in The Sunday Record, Middletown, NY, September 21, 1997, at 9.
  19. Judge Cooke’s comment about Funeral Director Jim Kenny, as reflected in The Times Herald Record, Middletown, NY, September 22, 1997, p. 3.
  20. Mrs. Cooke died on November 10, 2004 at the age of 91 and is buried in the Rock Ridge Cemetery in Monticello alongside her beloved ALarry.”
  21. Honorable Judith S. Kaye, A Eulogy of Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke, 64 Albany L Rev 5 (2000).
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