Historic Postcards of New York County Courthouses

Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt is a retired Judge of the New York Court of Appeals and the President of the Historical Society of the New York Courts. He is also the author (with his wife, Julie) of the 2006 book “Historic Courthouses of the State of New York: A Study in Postcards.” The images featured in the book are now available on the Society’s website and this post is an introduction to this project.

History can be told through books, diaries, oral traditions, and even art. And as we have learned, through post cards. They tell a story of time and place, like photographs, but often with interesting commentary on the other side of the card.

There is of course a written history of our courthouses, but as the saying goes, (by way of paraphrase) one image is worth a thousand words. Browsing through an old antique shop some years ago I ran across a pile of post cards, marked 10 cents each, sitting on an old desk. Looking through the stack I encountered a courthouse or two and was charmed by the imagery. From then on, and whenever in a used whatever shop I would look for the inevitable shoe box that held these little treasures. Thankfully, they captured an era a century before our present epoch in which a greeting is sent by text. Continue reading

Emergence of the Common Law, The Anglo-Saxon Dooms, 601-1020 AD, Part 2: Dooms of the Kingdom of Wessex

In 725, the Kingdom of Kent lost its predominance in Anglo-Saxon England and the center of power moved to the Kingdom of Wessex. The kings of Wessex gradually expanded the area under their rule through annexation and conquest and, by the year 821, a large part of England was under the governance of the Crown of Wessex.

The Dooms of Ine (c 670-728 AD)

Laws of King Ine, Courtesy British Library
Laws of King Ine, Courtesy British Library

Ine, King of Wessex, issued Dooms in the year 694. Unfortunately, none of the original manuscripts survive and the sole version available to us today is annexed to a later document, the Dooms of Alfred the Great. In that version of Ine’s Dooms, the first several clauses relate to the Catholic church and seek to promote the practice of Christianity. Other dooms include penalties for fighting, stealing, slave trading and murder. Procedurally, the Dooms addressed the administration of oaths and perjury, and widened the definition of a surety by removing the requirement that person acting as surety be a member of the accused’s Maegth (kindred). New dooms relating to land usage and tenures indicate a fundamental change taking place in Anglo-Saxon society as it became more agrarian. Continue reading

The Jackson List: Miss Willard’s English Reading List (1910)

The Jackson List is a newsletter written by John Q. Barrett (Professor of Law at St. John’s Law School & Elizabeth S. Lenna Fellow at the Robert H. Jackson Center) on the life & career of Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. We are happy to occasionally reproduce entries from The Jackson List here that touch on New York history and Justice Jackson’s ties to Western New York. To get all of The Jackson List entries see Professor Barrett’s site here or send a “subscribe” email.

In 1909, Robert H. Jackson, age 17, graduated from the high school in his boyhood hometown, Frewsburg, New York. That Fall, he began to commute northward by trolley each day—about six miles—to Jamestown, New York. He attended Jamestown High School as a senior, taking subjects that had not been offered in Frewsburg.

At Jamestown High School, Robert Jackson came to be influenced, deeply, by an English teacher, Miss Mary Willard. He took her courses in English and English History. He also studied with her outside of class. In 1910, she gave him a carbon copy of a typed, four-page list of recommended readings—it became, as he wrote on it, “Property of Robt. H. Jackson.” Soon thereafter, Miss Willard gave him a mimeographed copy of a retyped, slightly longer version of the list—an expanded edition, it seems. Continue reading

Western New York Women Pioneers in the Law: Upcoming Program at SUNY Buffalo (11/5 @ 5:30PM)

This post is by Peter D. Cantone, Associate at Phillips Lytle LLP.

Approximately 300 miles separate Buffalo and the surrounding areas from Court of Appeals Hall in Albany, but jurists and legal pioneers from Western New York have nonetheless played a crucial role in our New York State legal history. From Judges on the Court of Appeals to politicians on local and national stages, Western New York has produced no shortage of legal luminaries who have helped shape our legal system. Indeed, Western New York’s proud legal heritage includes such names as John Roberts, Robert H. Jackson, Frank H. Easterbrook, Grover Cleveland, and Millard Fillmore. And the region’s impact on our own Court of Appeals is a tradition that continues to this day: Two of the six currently sitting Judges of the Court are Western New York residents who routinely traverse the length of Interstate 90 to travel to our State’s capitol when the Court is in session.

Next Thursday, Western New York’s contributions to our legal heritage will be center stage in a new program about five “first” women who all hailed from the region: the first woman admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the first woman admitted to practice law in New York State, the first woman to argue before the Court of Appeals, the first woman District Attorney in New York State, and the first African-American woman elected to the United States Congress. As a fitting tribute, remarks about these pioneering women will be given by some of their present-day counterparts from the region, including Hon. Eugene F. Pigott, Jr., Hon. Paula L. Feroleto, Hon. Erin M. Peradotto, Michelle Henry, Prof. Bernadette Gargano, Michael B. Powers, Esq., and Congressman Brian Higgins. Continue reading

Emergence of the Common Law, The Anglo-Saxon Dooms, 601-1020 AD, Part 1: Dooms of the Kingdom of Kent

This post is by Frances Murray, former librarian of the New York Court of Appeals and expert on legal history. This is the first post in a series on the development of the rule law.

In his seminal work, The Nature of the Judicial Process, U. S. Supreme Court Justice and former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeal Benjamin Nathan Cardozo wrote of the land of mystery when constitution and statute are silent, and the judge must look to the common law for the rule that fits the case. He is the “living oracle of the law” in Blackstone’s vivid phrase.

The New York jurist Chancellor James Kent, known as the father of American jurisprudence, described the process by which the common law grew into use by gradual adoption, and received, from time to time, the sanction of the courts of justice, without any legislative act or interference. It was the application of the dictates of natural justice, and of cultivated reason, to particular cases.  In the just language of Sir Matthew Hale, the common law of England is “not the product of the wisdom of some one man, or society of men, in any one age; but of the wisdom, counsel, experience, and observation, of many ages of wise and observing men. Continue reading

The 100th Anniversary of Judge Matthew J. Jasen’s Birth: A Commemoration

On December 13, 1915, Matthew J. Jasen was born in Buffalo, New York. In a public career that spanned much of the 20th century, his achievements were remarkable, including service as a United States Judge in post-war Germany, and 18 years as an Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals where he authored more than 800 signed opinions. In later years, he served as Special Master by appointment of the United States Supreme Court. His deeply principled jurisprudence, personal warmth and abiding commitment to the rule of law have been recalled and celebrated many times, including by his friends and colleagues such as Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, Judge Albert M. Rosenblatt, and Judge Eugene F. Pigott, Jr., as well as his law clerks (including two Historical Society trustees, Michael B. Powers and John J. Halloran, Jr.). For its part, the Historical Society has prepared this biographical sketch.

For this Centennial, the Historical Society is pleased to provide access to rare video footage of the ceremony at Court of Appeals Hall in Albany, New York on the occasion of Judge Jasen’s retirement.  On December 17, 1985, the Court of Appeals opened its doors to a television crew from the PBS/WMHT program, “Inside Albany,” who filmed the Judge’s retirement ceremony in the Court’s library and an interview with the Judge in his chambers.  The Historical Society extends its appreciation to WMHT, and Syracuse University, for preserving the episode and making it available to the Historical Society for the benefit of the historical record. Continue reading

Amici Podcast: Judith Kaye on The Commission on Judicial Nomination

The Commission on Judicial Nomination—the panel that screens candidates for the Court of Appeals—has been unusually busy. In the past two years, four new judges have joined the court, and in the next couple years the other three jurists on the state’s highest court will step aside—including Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, whose term concludes at the end of 2015. That means Governor Andrew Cuomo will be only the second governor in state history to have appointed all seven judges of the state’s highest court; the other was his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, who left an incredibly balanced court with three Democrats, three Republicans and an independent.

But how does the process work, how does an applicant get to and through the vetting process? Continue reading

From the Executive Director

As we prepare to launch this legal history blog, featuring articles on our unique niche…New York State Legal History, it is clear to me that for this blog to succeed it has to be viewed by all of us as our blog. We will be inviting judges, attorneys, scholars, and authors to consider interesting points of legal history in new ways. We also hope that you will let us know your own ideas for posts of interest, and you are encouraged to submit your topic together with you credentials through our email history@nycourts.gov

We encourage you to be involved in another way. These short pieces are intended to be thought provoking and informative snapshots on a topic. We hope you will be moved to submit your reactions to what you read here by sending your comments to history@nycourts.gov

Seems to me that our world today is all about sharing ideas, interacting, and moving quickly forward. We hope that with your help this blog will give us the opportunity to move from a static portrayal of legal history to a different format…one providing the important function of viewing fast-paced current events in the context of history. We all pay lip service to how history informs our present, well here’s an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. If people can tweet about their breakfast cereal and get untold numbers of responses, with your participation we can surely do the same. Let’s thrust our legal history to the fore and look at the present through the critical lens of the past.

Please join us and enjoy these first posts. Send us your feedback and your ideas for future posts. Share our new blog with your friends and colleagues. People are indeed interested in history and we’re here to provide a unique forum to share our past, our present, and indeed our future.

Marilyn Marcus

Your feedback is appreciated! Please take a few minutes to answer our 5-question survey to let us know what you think about our blog. If you have questions or comments about this article please send an email to history@nycourts.gov.
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