I was delighted to read the article about the laudable effort to gain landmark status for the historic and classical Nassau County Courthouse on Old Country Road in Mineola. The story evoked warm memories for me because I began my public service career there in 1963 as law secretary to Second Department Appellate Division Associate Justice Marcus G. Christ. I remained with him in that role until 1970, by which time he was presiding justice. The local residential chambers suite for Justice Christ (and my lovely adjacent office) were located at the southwest corner on the first floor of that county courthouse. The primary chambers were at 45 Monroe Place in Brooklyn.
As a young lawyer then, I regret not paying close enough attention to the classic architectural details of my work space and the whole surrounding environs of that magnificent venue. I also recall naively wondering why my Judge – the most senior jurist in the county – did not occupy the more spacious chambers suite located nearby. Supreme Court Trial Justice Mario Pittoni presided there and one day told me the story of how he came to have those chambers. My unassuming judge had deferred to him, though he was junior, because the senior judge simply thought that the trial justice needed the extra space for daily conferencing routines in working with the lawyers on trials.
Judge Christ was a very practical man and a very classy man, too, with no pretensions about rank.The judicial process, its efficient operation and the institution were paramount to him and Judge Pittoni’s story proved it. My judge’s own more modest Mineola residential chambers, as an appellate justice primarily operating out of Brooklyn, were needed only for two or three days a week, so he made that quiet sacrifice. As a young lawyer in my first job in the court system, I learned many valuable lessons from my Judge’s example in that regard and in so many other ways, too.
Concerning the landmark effort, I can vividly recall my pride upon entering the courthouse that I was privileged to work in as his law secretary. After a few years, the then-new Supreme Court building in Mineola was completed across the street and we moved in again on the southwest corner – a fine chambers in a modernist courthouse that will never attain landmark status. My Judge was still the most senior jurist – even, soon to be designated as presiding justice of the huge 2nd Department – yet, he once again deferred occupancy to the local administrative judge for the most spacious chambers.
It was good to have the New York Law Journal revive such nostalgic memories through publication of the important efforts of those trying to keep the historic courthouse more alive through landmark status as a recognition of all that it has stood for though the decades in service to the public good. I hope it succeeds, and after working with one of the finest judges and human beings ever to occupy that privileged space, I am sure that my culturally refined judge would enthusiastically add his enthusiastic vote for the designation of “his” original prestigious residential judicial work space as a landmark courthouse.
Joseph W. Bellacosa retired from his position as associate judge on the state Court of Appeals in 2000. He also served as dean of St. John’s Law School.