Story and photos by Carol Montana
MONTICELLO, NY (January 2, 2013) – Sullivan County and the New York State Third Judicial District installed a new judge on Friday, December 28, 2012 when Grahamsville resident and longtime director of Sullivan County Legal Aid Stephan G. Schick was sworn in as New York State Supreme Court Justice.
The Third Judicial District of New York State includes Sullivan, Ulster, Albany, Columbia, Schoharie, Green and Rensselaer Counties. Schick was elected on November 6, 2012.
The largest courtroom at the Lawrence H. Cooke Sullivan County Courthouse was standing room only as family, friends and colleagues gathered to watch the ceremony.
Sullivan County Judge Frank Labuda acted as the Master of Ceremonies. Labuda spoke of the judicial profession’s legacy: “Over 2000 years ago, Socrates described the necessary talents of a judge when he wrote, ‘Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly; and to decide impartially.’ Your life, both in and out of the courtroom has shown you to be courteous, wise, considerate and sober, and most importantly, impartial. These attributes will serve you well.”
Guest speakers included the Immediate Past President of the Sullivan County Bar Association, Danielle Jose-Decker (photo right), who made the introductions; Schick’s longtime adversary, former Sullivan County District Attorney Steve Lungen; longtime law partner and current Executive Director of Sullivan County Legal Aid Panel, Tim Havas; and the new judge’s brother Hans W. Schick.
Lungen (photo left) spoke of the irony that he was even asked to speak at the event. “Our profession made us adversaries … Steve and I had about 3000 cases a year we had to deal with. Multiply that by almost 30 years and you can see how many cases that we had to square up on,” Lungen said. “We saw each other every day, we dealt with each other every day, we argued, we fought, we negotiated and we settled … But there were times when you could not settle cases …”
The former District Attorney went on to say that “You’re learning a lot about somebody when you’re in the courtroom with those kinds of high stakes. … It’s a war, it’s a battle … Steve proved himself as an excellent trial attorney and adversary. He was a terrific advocate for the indigent. They got the best defense from him. Absolutely.
“Of course he was underappreciated by the defendants that he represented,” said Lungen, “because as they used to say they wanted a ‘real’ lawyer. They didn’t want a legal aid attorney. Take it from me, he’s a real lawyer.”
Lungen said that “Steve made me a better lawyer. … because of his ability in the courtroom, because of his hard work, I knew that I would have to figure out a strategy, figure out a way to get around what I knew what he was going to do … and I appreciated that every time I tried a case with Steve.”
Schick’s colleague on the Sullivan County Legal Aid Panel, Tim Havas (photo right) spoke of the new judge with obvious fondness and respect. “Steve is a hardworking, tremendous legal talent, and he definitely was a tremendous leader, not so much by what he said, but what he did. … When I came into the courtroom, I wanted to live up to Stephan Schick’s standard. … We were in that office till 11, 12, 1 o’clock in the morning, literally scripting our questions and summations and yes, it’s true, we always tried to include some things that would antagonize the district attorney’s office just for the mere sport of it. … Steve was always accessible and always there for you.”
“… on a professional level,” Havas continued, “as someone who has sat in the office next to him for over 20 years, I don’t think that Steve even knows the word ‘no.’ If someone needed anything, another lawyer, someone on staff, a friend, ‘I need help,’ ‘I need money,’ ‘I need a ride,’ ‘someone’s sick, can you cover my case’ …”
Ending on a serious note, Havas gave Schick the ultimate compliment, “I don’t know many people in this world that I would trust with my life, but Stephan Schick is someone I would trust with my life. He’s that kind of person.”
Schick’s big brother, Hans W. Schick (photo left), spoke on behalf of the family saying “they are all proud and happy.” Remarking that there were two members of the family who couldn’t be there, he spoke of their parents and life on the family’s Grahamsville farm. “I think that our parents would be extremely proud of Steve today, extremely proud and happy. … Steve, I congratulate you, our whole family congratulates you, and especially Mom and Dad congratulate you.”
The oath of office was administered by New York State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Cahill; Sullivan County Clerk Daniel Briggs handled the legal paperwork and Schick’s robe was presented to him by Sullivan County Bar Association President, Michael Mednick.
Schick began his remarks by dedicating the event to all public defenders and legal aid lawyers “because having been one for over 30 years, I know so well how hard they work and how underappreciated they are.”
After thanking the people who helped get him elected, Schick said, “This building is a home to me, and I probably have spent more waking hours in the last 35 years inside this building than I’ve spent in my own home. … I’ve spent a lot of downtime, staring at the pictures on the wall at the people who have been Supreme Court Justices before this time, and I’ve read a lot about them. … I think that I have a tremendous good fortune and a tremendous blessing …”
Schick went on to sing the praises of the Sullivan County judges present in the courtroom, specifying Judge Anthony Kane’s judicial demeanor and discipline and decency. “You were such a teacher in the way you handled these difficult cases,” Schick said of the former Associate Justice of the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department.
“Judge Ledina,” said Schick, “I learned a lot from you,” referring to retired Justice Burton Ledina who served as County Court Judge, Surrogate, Acting Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge, Acting Sullivan County Family Court Judge, Town of Thompson Justice and Village of Monticello Justice. “One of the things I’ll always remember is the tremendous sense of humor that you have … you truly know how to put people at ease and in their place without making a big stir … I want you to know that I will take that knowledge with me.”
Turning his attention to Family Court Judge Mark Meddaugh, Schick said, “… there is no one who can compare to your ability to take complicated, rigmarole legal arguments and just cut through it all in one common-sense phrase or one common sense ruling.”
“And Judge McGuire,” said Schick, to Sullivan County Court Judge Michael McGuire, “you’re relatively recently elected to the bench, too, but you’ve done something that I think is a little bit of an inspiration … you went to law school later in life … you did things in between. I’ve always noticed that not having been a lawyer till you got older gave you a different perspective … there’s a certain quality of knowledge about things, that comes with having been a ‘real person’ instead of just a lawyer,” Schick quipped.
Turning to the afternoon’s host, Schick continued. “Judge Labuda is an example of a person who’s a judge who understands that there has to be more to life than just a job. … You lead such a rich life … And I’ve also learned some very important things while I’ve been in your court. There is no backlog in Judge Labuda’s court. And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure there’s no backlog in my court, even if that means transferring cases to Judge Labuda.”
Wrapping up his remarks, Schick added, “I hope in the coming years, that my time here as a judge in this courthouse will reflect all the things that I’ve learned, the fact that I feel like I’m home when I’m here … that I’ll know how to make sure each attorney has a full and fair opportunity to present his case. I know how important that is … I will do everything in my power … to be as fair and decent as I possibly can.”
Schick finished his remarks by thanking his wife, Donna Schick (pictured in photo right with her husband). “There is no way I could ever have obtained this position without the help and support from the woman I love.”
And to the assembled well-wishers: “I hope that all the things I’ve learned from these judges here will make you as proud of me in the future as you are of me today. Thank you.”
An Invocation and Benediction were both led by Schick’s own pastor from the Grahamsville United Methodist Church, the Reverend Robert Kersten.