Remembering Judge Hugh R. Jones.

Author:Abrams, Douglas E.
Position:Former New York Court of Appeals judge

When Judge Hugh R. Jones died March 3, 2001, at the age of eighty-six, New York lost an "intellectual giant" devoted to lifelong public service. (1) His eight law clerks lost a mentor, role model, and friend. We clerks were proud to have our careers linked with his--not only because he taught us so much, but also because his luster made us look so good. As Judge Jones approached mandatory retirement age in 1984 after twelve years on the New York Court of Appeals, the New York Times called him the "intellectual leader of the court." (2) Herald Price Fahringer lauded the Judge's "unbeatable intellectual prowess" and called him "a man of letters" who "provided ... a new standard of intellect in the art of decision making." (3) Judge Matthew J. Jasen praised his colleague's "creative talent and unusual energy," (4) and his "comprehensive knowledge of the law, ... vigorous precision and ... abiding fidelity to the judicial role." (5) Speaking about the Court, former Chief Judge Charles D. Breitel was more direct. Judge Jones, he said, was "one of the best minds we've ever had." (6)

Judge Jones's clerks had the good fortune to tap the mind that produced this chorus of public praise. Above everything else, however, a Hugh R. Jones clerkship taught that to be a good lawyer, one must first be a good person. Whenever someone walked into the Judge's office while we clerks in the outer chambers were attending to other matters, his greeting gave no hint whether the visitor was the Chief Judge or the janitor who emptied the wastebaskets; Judge Jones gave everyone the same warm welcome. He answered every letter he received, even ones from prisoners whose convictions the Court had affirmed or left undisturbed. On the rare nights when clerks outlasted the Judge, he went home only after first making the rounds to say good night to each of us. Even his most ordinary requests were punctuated with "please" and "thank you." He treated clerks with such unfailing courtesy that we were not surprised a few years ago when Mrs. Jones said she had never heard him raise his voice in the sixty-plus years she had known him.

Judge Jones's 1984 farewell to the Court was marked by the same grace that had marked his tenure. Transcripts of retirement ceremonies, with their final opportunity for public reminiscence and outlook, are published in the New York Reports. True to his character, Judge Jones concluded his remarks by thanking Court personnel by name--not only the other...

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