Tag Archives: Buffalo

Jackson List: Hospital Birth (1919)

In 1911, Robert H. Jackson, a law student, met Irene A. Gerhardt, a state government secretary, in Albany, New York.  They dated during that academic year while Robert, a senior at Albany Law School, completed its program.

In summer 1912, Robert returned to Jamestown in western New York State, the city where he had already begun to establish himself.  After he became a lawyer in 1913, he built his law practice there.  He saved money to buy a house and courted Irene by letter and occasional visits.

In 1916, Robert and Irene Jackson married in Albany and then made Jamestown their home.  Within months, however, he was recruited to practice law with a prominent law firm in Buffalo.  So they moved to an apartment and lived there for the next two years.

It seems that while Robert practiced law in Jamestown and in Buffalo, Irene assisted him a bit but was not employed outside the home.  Although she was a quiet person and new to western New York, she made friends and got involved in community activities.

In Fall 1918, Robert Jackson was recruited back to Jamestown to serve as corporation counsel (the city’s attorney).  At about that same time, Irene became pregnant.

That brings us to today, July 19th.  On this date in 1919, the Jacksons became parents.  Their son William Eldred Jackson, named for Robert’s late father, was born on Saturday, July 19, 1919, in Jamestown’s WCA Hospital.

More than three decades later, Robert—by then Justice Jackson—recorded these thoughts, which are focused quite a bit on finances, about the July 1919 passage in his life:

When Bill was born I had a sense of getting a great deal more credit for it than I had earned and a certain sense of the vastness of new obligations.  I took out additional insurance.  I felt an interest in the public schools and the future of the community that I hadn’t quite so keenly felt before.  Generally I behaved as one, I suppose, who had given hostages to fortune.  I also felt that my wife was more helpless.  Up to that time I had felt that if anything happened to me, she could take care of herself quite readily, but encumbered by a child I felt that she was entitled to added protection, which I tried to provide by way of insurance.  I don’t know that I analyzed my feelings too deeply because I was pretty busy practicing law and taking care of my responsibilities.

Having a family, I suppose, was a new kind of burden for me, but I can’t say that I ever was really burdened.  I didn’t have much money, but never in my professional life was there a time when I had any problem about meeting my office rent or any obligations.  I was careful about not incurring them if I couldn’t meet them.  Somehow or other I always managed to be ahead of my obligations.  That was one of the things that my father taught me and made very emphatic.  My credit rating was always first-class in the local stores and banks.  I never had any difficulty with financial matters.

My son was not born at home.  That was a departure from anything that ever happened in my family.  My two sisters and a brother who didn’t live had all been born at home.  That was the accepted thing as far as I knew.  But the doctor said my wife should go to the hospital, so hospital it was.

Bill Jackson, whom I had the great fortune to know, became a gifted writer and lawyer.  He was, as a U.S. Navy officer, his father’s executive assistant in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg during 1945-1946.  He spent his career practicing law at a leading international law firm, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.  And he was, proudly, a father.

In this photograph, taken when Bill was about one year old, he sits in his father’s lap.

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This post was emailed to the Jackson List, a private but entirely non-selective email list that reaches many thousands of subscribers around the world. I write to it periodically about Justice Robert H. Jackson, the Supreme Court, Nuremberg and related topics. The Jackson List archive site is http://thejacksonlist.com/.  To subscribe, email me at barrettj@stjohns.edu. Thank you for your interest, and for spreading the word.

On Judge Curtin, Judge Sharp, and Judicial Discretion in Criminal Sentencing

Judge John T. Curtin, who died last week in Buffalo, New York, at age 95, was a giant of the Western District of New York bench—he served with great distinction for almost fifty years.  Judge Curtin also was a gentleman.  I knew him a little bit and had the privilege of learning from him some wonderful, direct memories of western New York people, politics, cases, and law practice in the 1940s and 1950s.

I was pleased to see yesterday’s New York Times obituary for Judge Curtin (click here).  It recounts some of the significant cases that he handled, and the wisdom and values he showed as he exercised his judicial power.

The Times obit concludes with this story about a non-incarceration sentence that Judge Curtin imposed in the 1970s on Vietnam War protesters who had burglarized a federal building and destroyed military draft records:

Judge Curtin … presided over a Vietnam War-era case involving five protesters who had broken into Buffalo’s Old Post Office to destroy Selective Service records in 1971.  At their trial, they refused to stand when Judge Curtin entered the courtroom, and justified their actions as a legitimate response to the war.

A jury found them guilty of conspiracy to destroy draft records and intent to commit third-degree burglary.  But instead of sending them to prison, Judge Curtin gave them suspended one-year sentences and put them on probation.

 “Each of you,” he told them, “is free to speak your mind, associate with your friends, attend meetings, travel and continue your efforts in a peaceful manner.”

One of the protesters, Jeremiah Horrigan, called Judge Curtin last year….

Mr. Horrigan, a recently retired newspaper reporter, asked the judge why he had granted him freedom.

“I just followed procedure,” Mr. Horrigan quoted him as saying in a retrospective article he wrote about the case.  “I took into account your background, the fact that you had no criminal record, your family situation.”

Mr. Horrigan went on to marry and have two children and four grandchildren. “I tried to tell him how much I owed him [in] the only way I knew how,” he wrote of the judge, “by describing the barest outlines of a life of the luckiest man I know, a life he allowed to happen.”

Coincidentally, on the day following Judge Curtin’s death, Judge Kevin H. Sharp, age 54, resigned from the federal bench in Tennessee.  Sharp had been a federal judge for almost six years.  His reasons for resigning include his desire to return to private law practice.

Judge Sharp also was motivated to retire, however, by his frustration with federal mandatory minimum prison sentence laws.  Enacted mostly in recent decades, these laws require federal judges to impose harsh sentences, sometimes up to life sentences.  In Judge Sharp’s personal view, more merciful sentences would have been appropriate and just in some of his cases, but the law did not permit him to exercise such discretion in his sentencing decisions.

In a post-retirement interview (click here), former Judge Sharp put the problem in its human terms:

“The ‘drugs-and-guns cases’ — you say it like that and it sounds like they’re all dangerous [criminals].  Most of them are not.  They’re just kids who lack any opportunities and any supervision, [they] lack education and have ended up doing what appears to be at the time the path of least resistance to make a living.”

A wiser, more decent country would have federal laws that permit judges to exercise discretion not to impose harsh prison sentences on individuals who do not deserve them.

Such laws would encourage more people of the humane type that Kevin Sharp appears to be to become federal judges, and to remain on the bench for longer, even lifetime, terms of public service.

Such laws would give the U.S. more judges of the type that Judge Curtin was, in his time, able to be.