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September/1/2012

On the Shoulders of Giants By Michael P. Friedman

By Michael P. Friedman
Friedman & Molinsek, P.C.

(From the September 2012 Newsletter)

On the Shoulders of Giants

“If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.” Sir Isaac Newton

Agents of law in the civil area must avoid being personally involved in anything that might imply cooperation with divorce… In exercising a liberal profession, lawyers can always decline to use their profession for an end that is contrary to justice, such as divorce."  Pope John Paul II’s Address to the Roman Rota, January 28, 2002

“In particular a Catholic judge cannot pronounce, except of reasons of great weight, a sentence of civil divorce – where this is in force – for a marriage valid before God and the Church.”  Pope Pius XII, November 7, 1949, addressing the Union of Catholic Jurists

            Long before there was an Equitable Distribution Law, a Child Support Standards Act, a Family Court Act, a Unified Court System, an Office of Court Administration, cruelty divorces, NYCRR, maintenance guidelines, Statements of Clients Rights, Rules of Civility, compliance conferences or the myriad of useless Byzantine reforms that now govern the practice of matrimonial law, there were Sanford “Sandy” Soffer and Robert “Bob” Kahn. Both graduated law school under the Truman Administration, both practiced well into their ninth decades and both died this year.  They defined the practice of matrimonial law in Albany by their kindness, wit, generosity and love of law and lawyers.  We will not see their like again.  Frankly, I do not even know if they were friends, but they had much in common and meant so much to so many lawyers.  I hope this gives you a glimpse into two remarkable careers.  When they first toiled in the matrimonial fields, such practices were disdained by the general practitioners and other specialists.  It was considered invidious, and among Catholic lawyers it was discouraged.  Divorce was not common, adultery being the only ground and the leaving of one’s spouse bering socially unacceptable except among the Hollywood elite.     

Sandy was not strictly a matrimonial lawyer.  He was a general trial practitioner  but he was known in later years as the Dean of Matrimonial Lawyers in Albany.    For many years, he was the partner of a true gentleman, Abe Dorsman.  Sandy’s first appearance before the Appellate Division was to successfully defend summary judgment for the princely legal fee of $965 for representation in a divorce.[i] This was 35 years after he became a lawyer!  Unlike yours truly, Sandy’s career is marked by the dearth of trial and appellate reported cases.  He understood the necessity to resolve and settle matters for their true value, and he was a master at convincing you, your client, his client and the court of the definition of “true value.”

 Like Bob, Sandy loved the law and even more his fellow lawyers.  Any conversation began with a joke or an inquiry about your life, your family, your health or your practice.  Thereafter, the business of the day was discussed.  The strengths and weaknesses of their clients were revealed with frankness and utility.  The goal of all such work was the ultimate resolution of the case, and the protection of the attorney’s confidences.  Their word was their bond.  There was never a need to confirm anything in writing or reduce anything to an Order.  If they said it, you could bank on it.  In court, you were treated with deference and respect, as was your client.  They had a way of shepherding their clients to the ultimate fair result with a confidence that the litigants had done the right thing for themselves and their children.  Nothing was tried just to earn a fee, and the spouse who was weaker by finance, education or habit was protected to the fullest.   For a few years, I had the pleasure of being Sandy’s neighbor.  We shared an interest in canoeing, and later in life he bought a Ferrari of canoes for his beloved wife Miriam so they could hoist the feather light thing onto the car.  It was of course much too tippy, and Sandy reveled in lending me the thing so I could walk it to my house a few blocks away through the streets of Albany.  Like Bob, he regularly called me and left messages of his enjoyment of the monthly articles I wrote for the Albany County Bar Association Newsletter.  That meant the world to me.

Sandy and Bob were the models for the generations of matrimonial lawyers who came after them.  Anthony Cardona, long before he was a judge, and the great Stan Rosen, now both deceased, carried on the legacy of the civil resolution of matrimonial disputes through negotiation, fellowship, knowledge and hard work.  Bob was a mentor and then ultimately a longstanding partner with Florence Richardson, who has been for many years an excellent, well respected matrimonial lawyer in the Capital District.  It was Bob who once successfully implored an opposing wife to grant a divorce to his client so hubby could make someone else’s life equally miserable.  Sandy once told an opposing husband in Albany Family Court that he could never have had (nor wanted to have had) sex with as many clients as accused, like this dumb schlemiel was wont to impugn.    How could you not love those guys?

One of Bob’s many cases was representing Mr. Lischynsky against his wife Ola who changed her mind after a settlement and then successfully set the whole thing aside because she didn’t sign anything.[ii]  To this day we give homage to Ola with a Lischynsky Form recognized only in the Third Department.  Bob always enjoyed a good joke, the gossip which is the honey of our practice, and the settlement of a case.  In the vernacular of our specialty, he had amazing control of his clients.  His reputation granted him the ability to suggest a resolution that brought a client where he or she should be, even if it was against the client’s natural instincts. That is truly the art of matrimonial practice.  Bob was a matrimonial specialist, one of the first members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Practitioners, serving on its Board of Governors.  Both Bob and Sandy were active in the Albany County Bar Association, with Sandy being a former President.  Bob was a published author with his brother Larry, now in Senior Status as the Judge of the United States District Court of the Northern District of New York.   Their Divorce Lawyers Casebook was published by St. Martins Press in 1972.   They argued that most marriages might be saved, but that many truly broken marriages needed a swift resolution.  Here, Bob argued for no fault divorce 38 years before the legislature came around to his wisdom.

I am proud to say both Sandy Soffer and Bob Kahn were my friends.   I will miss them dearly, and our profession is less today because they are not among us.  I know there is a tendency to say that the practice of law was more fun in the past, and that things today are too hectic, ruthless, and churlish.  I must tell you, because of Bob and Sandy, things really were a lot more fun when they were around. 

             


 


[i]  Soffer v. Elmendorf, 108 A.D.2nd 954 (3rd Dept., 1985).

[ii] Lischynsky v. Lischynsky, 95 A.D.2nd 111 (3rd Dept.,  1983).  It was a 3-2 decision with future Court of Appeals Justice Levine writing the dissent.






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