Leon Lazer, a former justice on the Appellate Division, Second Department, and a longtime professor at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, died Wednesday. He was 96.
Lazer, who had prostate cancer and other ailments over the years, died from natural causes, said his son, David Lazer, a founding partner of Melville-based Lazer Aptheker Rosella & Yedid.
After being elected as a Suffolk County Supreme Court justice in 1972, Lazer served about 14 years on the bench, including eight on the Appellate Division. He authored close to 150 published opinions, including several notable decisions, such as in People v. Suitte, dealing with sentencing, and Nicastro v. Park, related to deference to trial judges by appellate courts.
Lazer, a veteran of World War II who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was repeatedly nominated to serve on the state’s highest court. ”His four nominations to the Court of Appeals are a clear testament to the impeccable reputation he enjoyed during his unparalleled 70-year legal career,” said Gail Prudenti, former chief administrative judge for the court system and now dean at Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. Lazer “was widely respected for his keen intellect and wise judgment,” she said.
His influence on New York law and courts can be seen today.
For more than 30 years, Lazer was chair of the Committee on Pattern Jury Instructions of the Association of Supreme Court Justices of the State of New York. The committee, a group of 15 judges in the state, produces a four-volume set of model jury charges for use by judges in civil trials.
After he left the bench, Lazer helped form the Office of the Appellate Defender to serve indigent criminal defendants. He was the original chair of the organization for three years and then was a member of its board, according to biographical details provided by Touro.
David Lazer said his father’s leadership and participation in various legal groups and efforts over the years helped him stay involved in the law after he left the bench in 1987.
“He was a giant intellectual, and he loved the law and anything to do with the law,” he said. “That’s why he had his fingers in all these different things, and that’s what motivated and moved him and satisfied his intellect.”
After leaving the bench, Lazer practiced law for about four years at now-defunct firm Shea & Gould in Manhattan, David Lazer said. And for the last 25 years of his life, Lazer was of counsel as his son’s firm, Lazer Aptheker. For roughly the same period, he taught torts and land use at Touro Law Center. He helped attract scholars across the country for the school’s annual Leon D. Lazer Supreme Court Review.
“He was always doing something, because it was intellectually challenging and stimulating for him to be involved in that,” David Lazer said. “That’s why he was a professor well into his 90s.”
Touro Law Dean Harry Ballan said Lazer was a “perfectionist, he was very exacting and at the same time, compassionate. ”
“He was a person of such wide learning,” Ballan said, adding that Lazer could talk as much about history or other subjects as the law. Teaching “was as natural to him as breathing.”
Previously, Lazer was town attorney in Huntington, and he was a part of a committee that helped create the concept of the Suffolk County Legislature, David Lazer said.
Before graduating from New York University School of Law in 1948, Lazer served three-and-a-half years in the U.S. Army, serving in Europe, David Lazer said.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Renee Lazer. He is survived by two children, David and Deborah Lazer; two grandchildren; and his sister, Dolores Silver, among other family members.