As one of a small group who had the privilege of serving as a law clerk to the Honorable Hugh R. Jones, I had the unique opportunity of spending two and a half years working under Judge Jones's tutelage at the New York Court of Appeals. I can speak for all of my fellow clerks in saying that Judge Jones served as a teacher, mentor, and role model for us all, and in so doing he set the bar very high.
Judge Jones was a man of utmost honor, integrity, and fairness. He practiced law in a day when collegiality was still a virtue that lawyers cherished. He was fond of saying that a lawyer's reputation is his principal asset and that a lawyer's good word defines his reputation. Judge Jones always paid rigorous attention to what was the morally right course of action. He devoted many hours of his working life to civic, religious and charitable affairs in a diverse range of fields. In this aspect of his life, he set an extraordinary example of how lawyers are obligated to serve a higher calling.
Judge Jones brought to every legal problem an awesome intellect which cut through the deep thicket of arguments and counter-arguments to reach a logical holding and a fair result. The New York Times once called Judge Jones the "intellectual leader" of the Court of Appeals. (1) Despite the numerous cases and issues that the Court faced, Judge Jones had amazing focus which allowed him to dissect a case, no matter how complex, and reason to the right decision.
Having practiced law all of his professional life prior to joining the Court, Judge Jones strove for user-friendly opinions that could be readily accessed and understood by the practicing bar. Any one of Judge Jones's opinions can easily be identified because a succinct holding is always stated right up front in the first paragraph. It frustrated the Judge that other courts's opinions often rambled on without framing precisely the holding of the court. Judge Jones was always concerned about articulating a narrow holding which would not be overextended in future cases, and treated controlling legal precedent with respect. We would thus spend hours in chambers around a table, debating the wording of his draft opinions so as to ensure complete accuracy and precision.
Perhaps because of his acute intellect, Judge Jones always loved a good legal argument. Anyone who argued before him at the Court will remember his polite, but tough questioning of advocates. Behind the scenes, he loved to debate the outcome of...