Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Judge Charles Brieant: A Profile In Dedication

Last month, July, marked the 35th anniversary of the appointment of Westchester’s own Federal District Court Judge, Charles Brieant. Appointed by President Richard Nixon, for many years Brieant was the only Federal Judge in the County. Judge Brieant agreed to give the GUARDIAN an interview at 8:00AM, in chambers.

Amongst several portraits of past prominent Jurists and political leaders adorning the walls of Brieant’s chambers, most impressive to this reporter was a large group photo of all of the young law school graduates who had interned over the past thirty-five years with the Judge, nearly three dozen in all. Brieant pointed out several indicating, with a paternal pride, the prominent public and private positions they had attained.

I asked, for openers, “How would you characterize the single most noticeable difference in the types of actions coming before you today, as opposed to when you were first appointed?” Brieant quickly responded, “There’s a tremendous difference in the types of cases. It has become the Court of Working People.” He went on to explain, “Back then we had many maritime and stock fraud cases. Now we see a lot of employment cases, discrimination.”

He went on, “We still get patent cases, employment disputes, civil rights, and criminal cases. Where we were once the Court of High Finance and the High Seas, we’ve become the Court of the People.” To further emphasize his point, Brieant revealed that some thirty percent of filers are pro se, availing themselves of electronic research and filing.

Brieant then turned to another aspect of change, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, evoking the statement, “Congress attempted to cure a problem they didn’t understand. They tried to make a national sentencing scheme.” He went on to explain that the net result of the guidelines has been more guilty pleas and far fewer trials.

Realizing that he had been in college during World War II, I asked if his schooling had been interrupted. Brieant related that he had entered the Army Air Corps, serving in Guam with the 351st servicing B-29 bombers. Returning from the war he quickly finished up his undergraduate work and made up for lost time completing law school in a remarkable twenty-four months.

Brieant, and both of his parents were born and raised in Ossining. His dad was a physician. Charles, however, was more interested in politics, and the law. At age sixteen he was working in the campaigns of local politicians. And, by twentyeight he ran successfully for Town Justice, defining his career path very early on.

Asked how, if at all, being a federal judge has influenced his private life, the Judge quickly responded, “I had to give up my private practice, and had to work much harder.”

Judge Brieant then recalled the near-fatal consequences to his wife when a disgruntled individual, unhappy with his ruling, sent poisoned chocolates to her. Attempting to turn to more pleasant memories I asked, “Looking back over the years what would you describe as the most gratifying aspect of your life’s work?”

Brieant responded, without hesitation, “helping people resolve their problems.” He went on to say that his work was made easier and more pleasant, “working with young law clerks who brought a modern outlook, and dealing with something different every day.”

With the clock well past 9:00AM, and mindful that the Judge would need to be taking the bench shortly, I dropped one last question on him, asking, “Years from now, when judicial historians reflect upon your many years of service to the citizens of the Southern District of New York, how would you prefer to be remembered?”

Brieant’s first response was, “My work was up to date,” quickly followed by, “due mainly to my loyal conscientious staff.” Then, pausing for a moment to re-flect, he offered, “Remembered that I cared and wanted to help people.”

As one who has sat in his courtroom, and read several of his decisions, I believe the good Judge will get his wish.

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