James Cullen, a longtime Anderson Kill real estate leader known for his work promoting human rights causes and opposing torture in times of war, died on Friday, Dec. 8, from cancer. He was 72.
Cullen served for decades in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps in the U.S. military. He began his service as an army private in 1969 after graduating from law school at St. John’s University. He served later as a brigadier general in the Army Reserve JAG and chief judge (IMA) of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Cullen, who had served on the board of advocates of nonprofit Human Rights First, was part of a group of retired generals and admirals seeking to change the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policies. He was present in the Oval Office when President Barack Obama, on his first day in office in January 2009, signed a series of executive orders banning torture and instituting a review of detention policies.
Human Rights First said Cullen was one of the first to take a public stand against torture in 2004 after Abu Ghraib photos were made public, joining seven other retired general and flag officers to call for a full and independent investigation.
Elisa Massimino, president and CEO of Human Rights First, said in a statement that Cullen “was a man of enormous moral courage, leading the fight against torture and putting his own reputation on the line as a retired general and a man of the law in order to stand up for what he knew was right.”
Massimino added that Cullen “believed at his core that protecting and advancing human rights is fundamental to who we are as Americans, and he challenged others to join him in fighting for these ideals.”
Cullen was also active on behalf of the Irish Republican movement, becoming president of Friends of Sinn Féin in 2012.
Cullen, who joined Anderson Kill in 2002, was chair of the firm’s real estate and construction group until he became of counsel in 2011. He retired from the firm in December 2016.
Cullen practiced in the real estate and construction law fields for more than 40 years, negotiating contracts for projects including hospitals, schools and water treatment plants. He served as secretary-treasurer of the New York Construction Industry Disaster Relief Fund Inc., according to Anderson Kill.
He was previously an assistant counsel to the New York City Educational Construction Fund, a public benefit corporation that encourages neighborhood development by constructing mixed-use real estate projects with new school facilities. While at Anderson Kill, the firm said, he negotiated landmark construction agreements on behalf of the fund, committing developers to build new schools as part of mixed-used projects at zero cost to the city in exchange for long-term leases granting air rights.
Before joining the firm, Cullen headed the construction and real estate department for Deforest & Duer, which Anderson Kill absorbed in 2002.
“Jim devoted his career to service—to his country, to the city of New York, to hospitals and other nonprofits, to all his clients in the construction industry and to human rights globally,” said Robert Horkovich, Anderson Kill managing shareholder, in a statement. “We were proud and lucky to have him as a member of the Anderson Kill community. He will be sorely missed.”
Cullen is survived by his partner, Catherine Kelly; his children, Tara Carbonaro (and husband Salvatore); Kerry Bartelemucci (and husband Lawrence); Erin Stilp (and husband Erik); and Sean Cullen (and wife Lindsey); their mother, Traudy Cullen; and eight grandchildren.
A wake for Cullen is planned for Dec. 13 at McMahon Funeral Home at 491 Mamaroneck Ave.in White Plains. The funeral service is on Dec. 14, 10 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.