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Fifty-two years after he was admitted and nearly a decade after “retiring,” Stewart F. Hancock Jr. retains the youthful exuberance of one who just passed the bar. So, while the former New York Court of Appeals associate judge had more than a few years on his audience of newly admitted lawyers, the 79-year-old veteran and the newcomers had much in common. That probably explains the warm reception Judge Hancock enjoyed during a recent speech to Fourth Department admittees. Judge Hancock was the featured speaker last week when the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, swore in 60 new attorneys during a ceremony at Carrier Theater in Syracuse, N.Y. “You have graduated from law school, you have passed the bar exam — it is time to get back your common sense, your ethics and your sense of justice and to become human beings again,” Judge Hancock told his audience. In Albany, N.Y., Judge Hancock remains something of a legend at the institution from which he retired in 1993 after reaching the mandatory age of exodus, 70. His scholarship and intellectual bent, coupled with a quirky sense of humor (he once declared Christmas trees vegetables to skirt Sunday blue laws and his comical farewell ditty is still hung annually on the court’s tree) and habit of (literally) standing on his head are recalled fondly. But it is not as if Judge Hancock rode into the sunset when he left the bench. If all goes as expected, the former member of the court will be back arguing before some of his friends on a couple of cases: one where Judge Hancock represents the New York state senate in a seminal budget battle with Governor Pataki; and a second characteristically off-beat case involving a central New York woman who was granted a divorce on grounds of cruelty after her husband called her a “Japanese Polack.” The Third Department reversed the decision — after the woman had remarried. Judge Hancock, an attorney with his grandfather’s firm, Hancock & Estabrook in Syracuse, remains an active and ardent advocate. And nowhere is he more active and ardent than in his enthusiasm for the profession. Judge Hancock told the new lawyers that four attributes of the practice of law keep him intrigued more than a half century after admission: the limitless variety and opportunities; the constant learning; the chance to develop professional expertise; and the opportunity to better society. “A life in the law is one of constant learning,” Judge Hancock said. “Whether it is a field of expertise about which you know nothing or an unfamiliar area of the law, you will have to master it.” For example, shortly after graduating from Cornell Law School, Judge Hancock returned to the Navy (he is an Annapolis graduate) and was assigned to defend two sailors changed with murdering a rickshaw driver in Japan. He had to quickly become an expert in post-mortem signs of strangulation — one of the many fields he has had to grasp in the practice of law. “I have had to master fields of expertise as diverse as the sprouting of onions, the causal connection between trauma and herpes zoster, State Department regulations governing the transmission of defense-related information to foreign countries and the interpretation of Article VII of the New York State Constitution dealing with the budget process,” Judge Hancock said. “Believe me, there are no courses on these subjects in law school. So be prepared to learn.” PUBLIC SERVICE Judge Hancock — a descendant of Declaration of Independence signatory John Hancock, New York Attorney General Theodore E. Hancock, Fourth Department Presiding Justice Peter B. McLennan and nephew of former Representative Charles E. Hancock — urged the new admittees to spend some time in public service. “My years as Syracuse corporation counsel, my brief stint in politics [he ran for Congress in the mid 1960s, and was trounced] and my service as a judge, I know, have made me a wiser and better lawyer and, I hope, a wiser and better person as well,” he said. “Public service will do that for you, too. If you have the chance, do it.” The speech was delivered during a regular session of the Fourth Department before a bench that included Presiding Justice Eugene F. Pigott Jr. and Justices Elizabeth W. Pine, Leo F. Hayes, Robert G. Hurlbutt and John F. Lawton.

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