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Ainsworth Sullivan: A Comentary by Michael Friedman

Ainsworth and Sullivan    
By:  Michael Friedman, Esq.
Friedman & Molinsek, P.C.

After 102 years, the venerable Albany law firm of Ainsworth Sullivan 1  is no more.  During its time, Ainsworth Sullivan provided legal services that spanned the Third Department as well as federal court.  Its attorneys practiced in all trial courts, the appellate division and the Court of Appeals.  At least five of its attorneys served as President of the Albany County Bar Association, and two (Anthony V. Cardona and Joseph C. Teresi) are now Supreme Court justices.

It all started in 1908 when Danforth Ainsworth and Charles B. Sullivan set up shop, ultimately becoming one of the first tenants of The State Bank of Albany building at 75 State Street, where it remained for nearly seventy years.   Its first Court of Appeals matter was a matrimonial case in 1909, Lake v. Lake. 2 Westlaw cites the firm over 700 times in its published cases, and none is more famous than Frank Warner and Thomas Tracy’s defense of the Atlantic Cement Co., Inc. in the seminal nuisance property damage case of Boomer v. Atlantic Cement. 3  Its last Court of Appeals decision was a successful defense of a product manufacturer by Carolyn George in Sprung v. MTR Ravensburg, Inc.4
The hallmark of Ainsworth Sullivan was insurance defense, and for years it represented, among others, the Allstate Insurance Company, Commercial Union and the Home Insurance Company.  The great Bruce Sullivan, son of the founder, tried thousands of jury cases without ever seeing a verdict over $100,000.  A close friend of my family, Catherine Cummings, once told me that she was on a jury that felt very bad for the poor injured plaintiff, but they just couldn’t give any money because Mr. Sullivan was such a nice man.  John Knauf was known as the Dean of Workers Compensation lawyers, and he saved countless judges and lawyers from disbarment by his reasoned approach to the Committee on Professional Responsibility.  He was a great lawyer and a true gentleman, writing his pleadings in pencil with never an unkind word about anyone.  His contemporary Thomas Tracy was a tireless litigator with a keen knowledge of trial and especially pretrial tactics.  In one famous case, 5  he moved for a mistrial because “the court was crying during the plaintiff’s testimony.”  The great Justice Edward Conway denied the motion although admitting the court was crying during a young girl’s testimony of being badly burned and scarred in a Sears tent.  Judge Conway noted that at least two jurors were crying and “you, Mr. Tracy, are also crying.”  When the jury gave the plaintiff “all of it,” which was over $4 million, Mr. Tracy clutched his chest. Ultimately the Appellate Division lowered the damages and Mr. Tracy’s client pushed all of the liability to the manufacturer.  Mr. Tracy wisely resisted my suggestion of having a firm motto on the letterhead:  “Ainsworth and Sullivan, on the Hill but on the Level.”

Frank Warner was an eloquent trial attorney who mostly handled the counties other than Albany.   He once obtained a no cause against the great Schoharie lawyer Jimmy Gage by telling the jury he was tired of being called a carpetbagger by Mr. Gage since he remembered growing up at Warner’s farm where he could “just about spit and hit the freshly polished spats of young James Gage from Harvard Law School as he arrived in his new roadster to the County Courthouse, Harvard accent and all.”             

By 1961 the young Robert Ruslander made his first of many forays into the Appellate Division winning summary judgment for his client in Jones v. National Casualty Company.6   Fifteen years later, he hired me and sometime after that became one of the best presidents of the Albany County Bar Association.  I was one of 11 attorneys at the firm, by then one of the largest in Albany.  But it was not all insurance defense.  Anthony V. Cardona was one of the premier matrimonial attorneys in the Capital District before taking the bench as Albany Family Court judge on the way to becoming  the Presiding Justice of the Third Department.  The late Peter Porco followed him to the bench and became a magnificent law clerk.  Joseph Teresi was a fine criminal defense lawyer in addition to an insurance defense specialist, and James McHenry was a real estate specialist for much of his career.  My former partner Jeremiah Manning was a creative tax and business lawyer who represented many local judges and lawyers with tax issues.

Ainsworth Sullivan has a rich history that is truly more than the sum of its parts.  For over a century, it produced excellent practitioners who have made their mark on Albany’s legal history.  Its counsel commanded respect from the bench, bar and clients.  Its alumni are some of the finest lawyers in upstate New York because they learned from the best.  At Ainsworth Sullivan you learned much more than the law, you learned how to be a lawyer.  Here is but a small sample of the fine lawyers who have attached Ainsworth Sullivan to their resumes:  Elizabeth Dumas, Margaret Comard Lynch, Warner M. Bouck, Thomas Welsh, Anthony V. Cardona, Jr., Frank Mahady, Timothy O’Connor, Michael Murphy, Betsy Ruslander, Robert Lyman, Frank Pell, John Bailey, Cornelius O’Connor, Stacy Pettit, Kyran Nigro, James Carroll, William O’Hare, Thomas Burke, William Murphy, Maria Tebano, Nelson Pirnie, John J. Connors, Jr., Dennis Habel, Rebecca Slezak, Mary Beth Hynes, Walter Archibald, Benjamin Wheat.            

1.At various times known as Ainsworth, Carlisle & Sullivan; Ainsworth, Carlisle, Sullivan, and Archibald; Ainsworth, Sullivan, Wheat and Archibald; Ainsworth & Sullivan; Ainsworth, Sullivan, Tracy and Knauf; Ainsworth, Sullivan, Tracy, Knauf, Warner and Ruslander, P.C. and Ainsworth Sullivan.
2.194 N.Y. 179 (1909)
3.26 N.Y.2nd 219 (1970)
4.99 N.Y.2nd 468 (2003)
5.Rush v. Sears Roebuck, 92 A.D.2nd 1072 (3rd Dept., 1983)
6.14 A.D.2nd 943 (1961)


November 2014 NEWSLETTER

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