Editors’ Note: This item has been updated to reflect a Correction.
Robert Conason, a highly successful personal injury attorney and partner at Gair, Gair, Conason, Steigman, Mackauf, Bloom & Rubinowitz, died early yesterday. He was 80.
Friends said Conason died from complications from leukemia at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan.
Friends and colleagues remembered Conason as much for his humility as for the outstanding success he achieved in the courtroom.
Among his most notable legal triumphs were $100 million in settlements for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their families with the Victims Compensation Fund, and a $50 million settlement on behalf of relatives of business executives killed in the 1980 fire at the Stouffer’s Inn in Westchester County.
Conason said in a 2010 interview with lawline.com that he initially thought of practicing criminal law when he got his degree in 1960 from New York University School of Law following a stint in the Army. But he said he began working with the prominent attorney Harry Gair and realized he liked the intellectual challenge and satisfaction of representing clients in personal injury cases.
Conason eventually became senior partner of the firm Harry Gair began, Gair & Gair.
Ben Rubinowitz said Conason became one of the leading trial attorneys in New York and Rubinowitz was one of many attorneys who took time out to attend Conason’s trials to observe him in action.
"The reason he was so good is that Bob had an appeal to every man," said Rubinowitz. "He was a very humble guy who was so unassuming. He never spoke in flowery terms. He spoke to jury members as if they were his neighbors and his friends."
Richard Godosky of Godosky & Gentile said he was a friend of Conason’s for nearly 60 years.
"He was an exceptional lawyer who, I must tell you, unlike most of us, didn’t make an enemy in the entire profession," Godosky said. "I think he was the most talented trial lawyer I ever met. But not withstanding all of that, he was a very private person."
Godosky said Conason’s friendly demeanor helped him in the courtroom with jurors and judges. But he said Conason readily admitted to also being driven by a fear of failure.
"Why was he so good?" Godosky said. "The best trial lawyers we knew were the most insecure. He always said that insecurity led him to work day and night."
Another friend, Henry Miller of Clark, Gagliardi & Miller in White Plains, said Conason never let his courtroom and monetary success go to his head.
"Bob did very well, very well," Miller said. "But he never loved money…he never let it corrupt him."
Conason was a member of the Inner Circle of Advocates, an organization comprised of 100 top plaintiff’s trial lawyers in the country, as well as the American College of Trial Lawyers and the International Academy of Lawyers.
Conason also served as an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law and was the only personal injury attorney named to the first Office of Court Administration advisory panel on civil practice.
Conason is survived by his wife, Leslie, their daughter Alexis, and two children from a previous marriage, Rick and Laurie.
His funeral will be Friday Feb. 15 at 10 a.m. at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 180 W. 76th St., Manhattan.