Lester Shulklapper, left, and Robert Isseks
Lester Shulklapper, left, and Robert Isseks ()

Two attorneys who left their marks in very different ways on New York state government and public policy, lobbyist Lester Shulklapper and civil rights lawyer Robert Isseks, have died.

Shulklapper died Sunday at the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He was 82.

Isseks died Monday in Middletown. He was 65.

Shulklapper rose to prominence among Albany lobbyists at a time when their industry expanded exponentially, with spending on lobbying state government and the Legislature increasing to $243.1 million in 2015 from $5.7 million in 1978, according to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics. His clients at the leading lobbying firms of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker and at Shulklapper & Vacek included, at varying times in the 1970s through the 2000s, the New York Bankers Association, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the Healthcare Association of New York State, Consolidated Edison, Morgan Stanley and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Kenneth Shapiro, the leader of the Albany lobbying group at Jackson Lewis and a former chief counsel to three state Assembly speakers, said Shulklapper was the “consummate professional” who enhanced his own integrity by providing all sides of an issue to those he was lobbying.

“He was very smart and very honest in his presentation,” Shapiro said in an interview Wednesday. “He was someone who gave their clients their money’s worth and there were weekends when most people went home and he was here, working an issue.”

Shulklapper’s firm of Shulklapper & Vacek, once one of Albany’s largest lobbying firms, went into decline following the death of principal Michael Vacek in a car accident in 2005. Associates said Shulklapper had effectively been retired for about five years and was in failing health for two years.

In a 2005 interview with the New York Law Journal, Shulklapper objected to the portrayal by “good government” critics of lobbyists as people working solely in their own self-interest or of that of their clients (NYLJ, Jan. 10, 2005).

“My clients employ hundreds of people in this state, give them salaries, pay huge amounts in taxes and help make the government run,” he said.” A native of the Bronx, Shulklapper graduated from New York University School of Law.

Shulklapper’s funeral service was Wednesday at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel in New York City.

He is survived by his wife, Marilyn, and sons, Gregg Shulklapper and Kenneth Shulklapper.

Isseks’ colleague, Alex Smith, who attended Middletown High School with Isseks in the 1960s and shared an office with him in Middletown, said Isseks often represented prison inmates and fought for their right to at least get a fair hearing for release before state parole boards.

In Graziano v. Pataki, 11-116-pr, a divided panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against Isseks’ stance that some violent felons were denied parole through an unwritten and unconstitutional mandate from former Gov. George Pataki.

The Second Circuit ruled in 2012 that such a blanket policy “does not constitute egregious official conduct” or represent a constitutional violation (NYLJ, Aug. 6, 2012)

Smith said in an interview Wednesday that a few days before his death, Isseks told him that one of his biggest regrets was not seeking to appeal the Graziano ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Here it was five, six years later, and he was still troubled by that,” Smith said. “He was completely dedicated to his cases and, most of all, to the people affected by those issues.”

Isseks did prevail before the Second Circuit in another major civil rights case, Boria v. Keane, 99 F3d 492 (1996), when the court decided that a defender who failed to advise his client about the wisdom of rejecting a plea offer had provided ineffective assistance.

Smith said the attorney’s death was a surprise because, despite having asthma, Isseks exercised regularly by taking daily walks and frequent bicycle rides.Robert Tembeckjian, administrator of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, said Isseks was his roommate for a time when both attended Syracuse University in the early 1970s.

“We were the generation that was going to end the war in Vietnam, make America more racially tolerant and leave the world a better place,” Tembeckjian said. “We may have fallen short, but as a lawyer, Bob Isseks did make the world a better place, one civil rights case at a time.”

Isseks was a graduate of Fordham Law School. He was survived by his wife, Judith, and children, Abraham Isseks and Sophie Rose Isseks.

Visitation for Isseks was scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 6 at Applebee-McPhillips Funeral Home, 130 Highland Ave., Middletown.

Lester Shulklapper, Noted Lobbyist, and Civil Rights Lawyer Robert Isseks Have Died