On November 1, 2017, Albany attorney Lisabeth—Libby—Harrison died at the age of 69. Most members of the New York bench and bar do not recognize Libby’s name. Given her substantial contributions to New York law, that is both unfortunate and unjust. In fairness to her dedication and fidelity to the law, and her many efforts to improve it, a review of Libby’s career is warranted.
After graduating magna cum laude from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Libby attended St. John’s University Law School. She enjoyed significant success in Queens: Libby was the editor of the law review and graduated magna cum laude. After law school, Libby spent 15 years as a law clerk to two New York State Court of Appeals Judges—Hon. Dominic L. Gabrielli and Hon. Vito J. Titone. Her clerkships were followed by tours with the Appellate Division, Third Department; the New York State Capital Defenders Office; and the Appeals Bureau of the Legal Aid Society. As those positions demonstrate, her commitment to justice was manifest. Libby then transitioned from the public to the private sector, practicing law with the firm of Mintz & Gold, LLP. She would remain with the firm for the remainder of her career.
Libby enjoyed a well-earned reputation as a first-rate legal talent: exceedingly intelligent, hardworking, reliable and successful. Thus, Libby could have been content with (and proud of) the resume she amassed. She could have focused exclusively on the practice of law in the Capital District and eschewed other professional undertakings. But she did not.
In 2003, Libby joined the Committee on Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, of the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, the Committee charged with maintaining the PJI treatise. The Committee is made up of a select group of Supreme Court Justices—some trial judges, some Appellate Division judges—and two (sometimes three) “reporters.” The reporters, who are not judges, review developments in the law and suggest changes to the treatise based on those developments. Also, the reporters revise individual sections of the treatise. The proposed changes and revisions are reviewed by the judicial members of the Committee. That review is thorough and substantial, and requires close interaction among the judicial members of the Committee and the reporters. The Committee works throughout the year, meeting approximately nine times. Its efforts are reflected in the five-volume PJI treatise that is published every December.
For the better part of 15 years, Libby was a stalwart steward of the PJI treatise, effecting thousands of changes to the charges and comments—all while maintaining her law practice. She added new authority to the comments, reformed and polished existing text, and created new sections of “the books.” (This year alone, Libby, among other things, substantially revised the negligent misrepresentation section and created a section for right of privacy.) Libby worked to improve all four substantive volumes (volumes 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B). Her unmatched efforts and dedication to the committee made an excellent publication even better. Simply put, no individual did more over the past 15 years than Libby to make the PJI treatise the authoritative work it is.
Given the importance of the PJI treatise to the New York bench and bar, and the considerable and unrivaled contributions Libby made to the publication for a decade and a half, it is clear that Libby had a sizable impact on New York law. It is clearer still that judges and lawyers will benefit for years to come from Libby’s industry, as her words and wisdom are ingrained in the treatise.
Hon. David Demarest, J.S.C. (ret.), Chair of the PJI Committee;
Hon. Leon D. Lazer, J.S.C. (ret.), Chair Emeritus of the PJI Committee;
and John R. Higgitt, reporter to the PJI Committee