Anthony V. Cardona, the presiding justice in the Albany-based Third Department since 1995, died Sunday evening of cancer. He was 70.

Administrative duties had been handed over to Justice Thomas E. Mercure in late January (NYLJ, Feb. 1) when Justice Cardona was hospitalized. He underwent surgery on Jan. 23. He died in St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany.

Justice Cardona had announced his intention to retire at the end of 2011.

He was appointed presiding justice by Governor Mario M. Cuomo in 1994 and reappointed by George E. Pataki in 2005.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said Justice Cardona had been his “dear personal friend” for nearly three decades.

Judge Lippman said they hit it off, despite their dissimilar backgrounds—Judge Lippman a Jew from Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Justice Cardona an Italian Catholic from Albany.

“I think that there is a certain street-wise nature that we both have,” said Judge Lippman, who was the state’s chief administrative judge from 1996 to 2007. “We could look at each other and understand what we were both thinking about. I always used to kid him that we knew how to ‘make sauce,’ that we both knew how to get things done.”

Judge Lippman said he and Justice Cardona would meet halfway between Albany and New York City, at diners in Kingston or Newburgh, to discuss court policies and issues.

“We were friends, pals, comrades-in-arms,” Judge Lippman said. “He would fight you tooth and nail and represent his constituency, for the judiciary in his district, but once we came to an agreement, he was the most loyal team player, the greatest champion to the court system. There could not be a more loyal or tenacious advocate. He was a bulldog.”

Judge Lippman also gave Justice Cardona high marks for running a tight ship in the Third Department, where rulings are typically handed down within four to six weeks after oral arguments.

Attorney John Cirando of D.J. & J.A. Cirando in Syracuse, who has argued criminal appeals before the panel, recalled Justice Cardona taking great pains to draw out the facts from a pro se litigant.

“As presiding justice, he set a wonderful tone for the court,” Mr. Cirando said. “It was really gratifying to see how Justice Cardona was so patient with a pro se litigant, who had trouble with the English language, in just trying to understand that individual’s case. It made me proud to know him.”

Judith S. Kaye, the former state chief judge who is now counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, called Justice Cardona “kind, gentle, humane.”

In a tribute to Justice Cardona in the Albany Law Review last year, Judge Lippman cited the judge’s “exacting analysis and scholarship, clear and direct writing style, sensitivity for the parties, and the ability when necessary to set forth competing views of the law in a principled and respectful manner.”

In In re Golden, 56 AD3d 1109 (2008), Justice Cardona concluded that both common law and state Human Services Law permit transgendered individuals to legally assume a new name to reflect their new identification; in People v. Pauly, 21 AD3d 595 (2005), he rejected constitutional challenges to the retroactive application of Rockefeller drug law reforms; and in Auto. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Cook, 21 AD3d 1155 (2001), in dissent, he said an insurer has a duty to defend a policyholder who killed an intruder in self-defense.

Colleagues said Justice Cardona displayed keen compassion, in particular, in cases involving children or families disrupted by violence.

Ms. Kaye credited Justice Cardona’s experience as a Family Court judge as helping him develop an empathy he showed to all litigants who appeared before him.

“He was a great human being,” she said.

Justice Cardona was founding co-chairman in 1994 of the state Family Violence Task Force, and remained in that capacity for 12 years.

‘Have Gavel, Will Travel’

Under his leadership, Third Department panels met at least once in all 28 counties of the department, including at Cornell Law School and at Justice Cardona’s alma mater, Albany Law School. The forays into the counties were known informally as “have gavel, will travel.”

Third Department Justice Karen K. Peters said holding sessions in the counties put a face on the court it would not otherwise have.

“I will always think of it as the Cardona Court, at least for the 17 years I was on it with him,” Justice Peters said. “He created an Appellate Division that changed the way we respond. What I mean by that is we brought the Appellate Division to the people. We sat in every county and got to hold court so that people could see who we are and how we work and how justice is done. It took a pretty extraordinary vision to do that.”

He initiated a renovation of the Third Department courtrooms and chambers in the mid-2000s, including an updating of the courtroom.

While guiding a tour of the courtroom, Justice Cardona would tell his visitors that he insisted on a curved bench so that justices sitting on one end to the other could see each other as the judges asked questions.

Colleagues said the low point of his 17 years as presiding justice undoubtedly occurred in November 2004, when his chief clerk, Peter Porco, was killed with an ax at his suburban Albany home. Mr. Porco’s college-age son Christopher was ultimately convicted of slaying Peter Porco and severely wounding his wife Joan.

The Court of Appeals upheld Christopher Porco’s conviction in October (NYLJ, Oct. 19).

Justice Cardona graduated from Manhattan College in 1962 and, from 1963-67, served as a naval officer during the Vietnam War. He attended Albany Law School after his discharge, graduating in 1970.

Following a 14-year career as a practitioner, spent in part in the Albany County Public Defenders’ Office and as a law guardian, Justice Cardona began his judicial career when elected as Albany Family Court judge in 1985.

He was elected to Supreme Court effective Jan. 1, 1991, and re-elected in 2004. He was first appointed to the Appellate Division in September 1993 by Mr. Cuomo.

Third Department Justice John A. Lahtinen said he first met Justice Cardona while both were students at Albany Law in the late 1960s.

Justice Lahtinen, who has been on the panel since 2000, said he recalled when he and Justice Cardona watched the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series.

“He was a Mets’ fan and I was an Orioles’ fan,” Justice Lahtinen said. “I thought that was going to end our friendship.”

Justice Cardona was the kind of demonstrable fan that “you hated to sit there and watch a game with because he’d jump up when something made him happy.”

“He’d drive you nuts,” Justice Lahtinen said. But he added that Justice Cardona retained the same sort of passion for his work on the bench, especially if it involved families or children.

Justice Mercure, who served for 18 years on the Third Department bench with Justice Cardona, said his colleague’s upbringing shaped the empathy he had for litigants appearing before him.

“He never forgot where he came from, and he never forgot anyone he met along the way, either,” Justice Mercure said.

Justice Cardona’s insistence on the Third Department’s prompt disposition of cases for the sake of the litigants was also a reflection of the empathy he felt for the parties.

“He felt very strongly about getting cases out promptly and very concerned about that,” Justice Mercure said.

Justice Mercure and three others at the Third Department—Justices Peters, Leslie E. Stein and John C. Egan Jr.—are seeking appointment by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo as Justice Cardona’s sucessor (NYLJ, Nov. 9).

Vincent E. Doyle III, president of the New York State Bar Association, called Justice Cardona “a giant in the legal community.”

“More personally, he simply was one of the nicest, most friendly people I ever met,” Mr. Doyle said.

Justice Cardona is survived by his wife, Aline, and four children. His daughter, Elizabeth Keller, is a school teacher; his son Anthony Jr. is an attorney with D’Agostino, Krackeler, Maguire & Cardona in Albany; his son David is the Family Court clerk in Albany County; and his son Brian works in the security division for the Office of Court Administration’s Third Department.

A wake is scheduled for Thursday from 3-7 p.m. at the Parish of Mater Christi, 40 Hopewell St., Albany. The funeral will be on Friday at 10 a.m. at the Church of St. Mary, 10 Lodge St., Albany, followed by burial at St. Agnes Cemetery, 48 Cemetery Ave., Menands.