As a Court of Appeals Judge, I have had many "hard" writings-writings that do not easily flow from the pen. But the most difficult by far are formal farewells to a colleague. And while I would happily write endless tributes to Judge Vito J. Titone, I find it especially painful to do so on the occasion of his leaving the court.
It would be natural to begin a tribute with Judge Titone's very significant contributions to the law, particularly after his three decades on the bench. But having now spent more than a baker's dozen years with Judge Titone on the Court of Appeals bench, what rises to the top of my mind is the strong personal bond forged by this extraordinary place and role. We have shared terrible sadness and celebrated phenomenal joys, like marriages, births, and the proud admission of one child each to the New York bar; we have exchanged a million personal stories and decided thousands of cases together.
Even as I heavy-heartedly write this, I am thinking that if I simply wandered next door here at Court of Appeals Hall, I would find Judge Titone at his desk, piled high with books and papers, always ready with a warm greeting, an inquiry about my grandchildren or a delightful tale about his (all six of them--his three grandchildren and my three--now, remarkably, living in England), an amusing remark that would send me into gales of laughter. Judge Titone is a master at dissolving tensions and erasing frowns.
In our thirteen years of Albany dinners together, I have likely had fifty or more bogus birthdays. It's not that being with Judge Titone ages me. It's that he is fond of secretly informing restauranteurs that one of us is celebrating a birthday, so dinners often end with a surprise (our surprise is genuine) delicious dessert, a rousing chorus, and a sly smile on the face of Judge Titone: he's pulled it off again!
Personality is, of course, an integral part of everything people do, even judging. The personality of a judge is perhaps most evident on the trial bench. And I imagine Judge Titone--skilled both in the law and in humanity--was an extraordinary trial judge, serving on Supreme Court, in his beloved Richmond County (he actually "married into" Staten Island), from 1969 to 1975. To this day we are every now and then treated to a story about Judge Titone's trial court days, plainly a source of great professional satisfaction for him.(1)
For the past twenty-three years, Judge Titone has labored in the loftier reaches of the...