Imagine a colleague who takes the time to send handwritten notes, the old-fashioned way. They arrive frequently. We huddle to decipher the handwriting. They always say the right thing, congratulating, consoling, complimenting, as the professional and personal events in the lives of his brothers and sisters occasion. And they always end with “Fondly.”
Imagine a colleague who visits every September to wish a Happy New Year (even to the Irish kids), and does it again late in every December. He breezes in, cheerful and sincere, and breezes back out so he can get to everyone. Long after he’s gone, we’re still talking about how lucky we were to be visited.
Imagine a colleague who still has an insatiable intellectual curiosity and boundless energy well into his tenth decade. No book worth reading goes unread. Speakers arrive and enlighten, and movies are screened, at his request. He and his staff write and perform a play each year for the entertainment of all. He can make others laugh, and much more importantly he can laugh at himself.
Imagine a colleague who in busy times, when everyone’s work backs up, says “send me all the backed-up work,” and then does it, asking for nothing in return.
Got all that? Now, superimpose it on what is already widely known: one of the brief writers in Brown v. Board of Education 60 years ago; law professor at Columbia; Nassau County Attorney; the one who literally wrote the book not just on Evidence but also on New York Civil Practice; the one who invented mass tort litigation; the one who leads the nation’s judges in the much-needed effort to reform federal sentencing.
You now have in your mind’s eye our Jack Weinstein, the living legend of the Eastern District and the federal bench. He’s not just a brilliant, trailblazing judge, a first-ballot Hall of Famer if only we had one. He’s also generous, funny, kind, caring, magnetic, inspiring. We orbit around Jack.
Jack Weinstein’s light shines so brightly that in the glare it’s easy to miss what must surely be the most impressive array of senior judges ever assembled on one court. Fifteen judges on our court are past the age where they could have retired at full pay. Eight are 75 or older; five are 87 or older. All of the latter five, which include the 92-year-old Jack, are combat veterans of World War II.
Instead of retiring, all those senior judges still pull laboring oars on our court after brilliant careers not only on our bench but in the academy, in the other branches of government, on the state bench, in private practice. Each in his or her own way serves as a beacon for us younger judges, just as Jack does. But for him, each might easily be the recipient of this great honor. Yet one of the many ways they lead the rest of us is in paying admiring homage to our most special and oldest brother.
The Eastern District of New York is happy and proud on these occasions to share our Jack with the larger communities of which we’re a part. We’ve gotten used to doing that. Enjoy him, marvel at him, and love him, as we have for as long as we have known him.
But you can’t keep him. When the celebrating is over we always bring him back here to our home. We don’t just honor him; we need him. He and our other senior judges aren’t artifacts. They certainly are our past, but they are also very much our present and, God willing, our future as well.
On behalf of the entire Eastern District family, Congratulations Jack on receiving this Lifetime Achievement award.
John Gleeson is a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York.