A man whose life and public career spanned World War I, the Great Depression and World War II, Albert Conway was a traditionalist with a strong sense of justice, the highest ethical standards and a deep appreciation for the past. Simultaneously, he was an innovative reformer who understood the needs and demands of his time.
Members of the bar remember him as a tall, dignified man, who dressed in a three piece suit and derby, and who urged a formal style on all lawyers. "I do have a sense of humor," he once remarked, "but not when I go to court."1 His apparently austere demeanor concealed a benevolent, fun loving man of many talents, who often displayed his love for his family, the Church, and all aspects of Brooklyn.
His public service and lasting contributions to New York State were generated over 40 years, nearly 20 of them he served as Associate Judge or Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals.
Pre- and Post-World War I
The son of immigrants, Albert Conway was born on April 3, 1889 at his parents' home at 911 Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn.2 He was the only son with two sisters, Genevieve and Josephine. His father, Joseph Patrick Conway, was born in England and worked initially as a purveyor of dry goods until, through self study at night, he became a lawyer and author.3 His mother, the former Jane (Jennie) Lucille Flanagan (also spelled Flannigan), was born in Ireland.4 Although his birth certificate lists his name as Richard Albert Conway, his family always called him Albert. Thus, by 1911, he discontinued signing his name "R." or "Richard" Albert Conway.5
Raised in the Roman Catholic faith, Albert Conway attended Boys High School in Brooklyn6 and then completed one year at St. John's College in Brooklyn. In his second year of college, he left to apprentice as a law clerk at his father's law office, and then worked in the same capacity at the law office of William C. DeWitt, both in Brooklyn.7 While apprenticing, he entered the Fordham University School of Law (approx. 1908 or 1909), which was then recently established (1905). During the same period, he was a member of the Young Men's Catholic Club of Brooklyn, and an editor in chief of that organization's publication The Mirror.8
In these early years his keen sense of justice and hatred of all forms of discrimination developed, due to his repeated exposure to signs in storefront windows stating "No Irish Need Apply."
Based upon his apprenticeships and the bar admission rules of the time, he was admitted to the practice of law on November 23, 1910, at the age of 21.9 He graduated cum laude from Fordham University School of Law, and received his LLB in 1911.10 Among his classmates was another future Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, John T. Loughran.11 A Democrat who entered politics as a party worker, he was an early protege of John H. McCooey, the Brooklyn Democratic leader. Nonetheless, throughout his public life Albert Conway strove for and achieved bipartisan support.
His public career began in 1913, when he was appointed Deputy Assistant District Attorney of Kings County by the then District Attorney James C. Cropsey, a Republican. At the time, he was the youngest person ever appointed to that position. By 1914, during World War I, he became an Assistant District Attorney and continued under another Republican District Attorney, Harry E. Lewis. During his years as an Assistant District Attorney (1914-1920), he prosecuted many celebrated murder, felony and municipal corruption cases and established a first-rate record.12 Ultimately, he was placed in charge of the Homicide Bureau.13
In 1917, he married Irene M. Pickett (nee Hewitt), who had been widowed at a young age.14 Irene was a descendent of Horatio Jones of General Washington's staff, and traced her heritage back to the Mayflower, being a descendant of Elder William Brewster, a founder of Plymouth Colony and an author of the Mayflower Compact.15 They resided initially at her family residence at 853 Bushwick Avenue, in Brooklyn. Between 1917 and 1926 they had four children, Alberta Irene (b. 1918), Elaine Margaret (b. 1919), Hewitt Arthur (b. 1922) and Lois Jane (b. 1926). During this time, Albert Conway also found time to serve as Professor of Equity Jurisprudence at the Brooklyn Law School of St. Lawrence University (1918-1919).16
Due to their growing family, the Conways purchased a home at 845 Carroll Street in Brooklyn, where Albert Conway lived until his death. He spent summer vacations in places where he and his family could escape the heat and humidity, and be free of outside contacts. They summered in Long Beach and Easthampton Long Island (late 1910s to 1920s), the Saranac region of the Adirondacks in upstate New York, the Mt. Tremblant and Lac Cler region of Quebec, Canada (1930s), and Boothbay Harbor, Maine (1940s to 1950s). He enjoyed swimming and golfing, and taught his children these favorite sports. During one summer in Long Beach, while he was an Assistant District Attorney, he received newspaper coverage for rescuing a melancholic woman from the surf.17
Following World War I, in 1920, he resigned his position as an Assistant District Attorney to form the law firm of Richards, Smyth & Conway in Brooklyn. His partners included former Municipal Court Justice Edward A. Richards, who had become the President of the East New York Savings Bank, and James A. Smyth.18
Between 1920 and 1929 he became prominent as a private practitioner. He recovered the largest verdict ever rendered by a King County jury up to that time.19 (see Rafter v. Richard K. Fox Pub. Co. 238 NY 567 ). He was elected President of the Brooklyn Lawyers Club while being active in the Brooklyn Bar Association. His father, Joseph, lived to see his son achieve only some of this prominence, as he died on May 31, 1922.
While vacationing with his family in Long Island, Albert Conway was contacted by Enrico Caruso, the famed tenor, about a real estate matter. As their professional relationship and personal friendship developed, Mr. Caruso invited the Conways to hear him perform at the Metropolitan Opera House, and then to meet him backstage. Upon hearing Mr. Conway audition his own singing voice, Mr. Caruso complimented him and suggested that, with training, he too could become a professional singer. Shortly before Caruso died in 1921, he presented Albert Conway with a gold medallion on which Caruso's profile was engraved. Judge Conway wore the medal on his pocket watch chain for the rest of his life.
He gained further stature during his representation of a European countess in a high profile divorce action and attendant settlement negotiations, which required him to travel abroad with his wife. The news reporters met the Conways at the boat upon their return from Europe and, when asked to provide information on the case, he responded, "If I could say nothing in ten languages, I would do so." When, upon further inquiry he also refused to state what countries he had visited, the news reporter reflected, "Mr. Conway keeps his mouth closed tighter than a ship's bulkhead."20
In 1928 he made an unsuccessful bid as the Democratic candidate for State Attorney General on the same ticket as Franklin D. Roosevelt, the gubernatorial candidate, and Alfred E. Smith, then the Governor of New York and the Democratic presidential candidate. At the time, Albert Conway was among the youngest candidates for any office, and was the Chairman of the Law Committee for the Kings County Democratic Organization.
During that campaign he and his wife traveled together, Irene became known throughout the state for her work in welfare and educational societies. In Texas, where it was announced that Al Smith had received sufficient votes from the State of Ohio to secure the presidential nomination, Albert Conway paraded, cheered and sang with the rest of the Brooklyn delegation, without wearing his vest. One newspaper reporter remarked "Nobody can recall ever having seen [him] without his vest, no matter how hot the day might be."21
Following Mr. Roosevelt's gubernatorial election, Conway was named New York State Superintendent of Insurance (1929), and served in Governor Roosevelt's Cabinet (1929 1930). In accepting the appointment, he reportedly traded a $100,000 per year salary in private practice for a salary of $12,000 per year.22 During his one and one half year tenure as Superintendent of Insurance, he received recognition for achieving a reduction in homeowner insurance rates, for broadening group insurance to cover employees controlled by a common employer and members of labor unions, and for strengthening motor vehicle insurance laws to ensure the financial responsibility of owners involved in accidents.23
The Great Depression
On May 5, 1929, six months before the stock market crash, Irene Conway died unexpectedly following what was supposed to be routine surgery, leaving him a widower with four young children.24 Her funeral service was attended by more than 1,500 friends and public officials, including the Borough President, then Lieutenant Governor Herbert H. Lehman and Mrs. Alfred E. Smith.25
As a sole parent and throughout his life, he impressed all of his children with the importance of pursuing an advanced education, and demonstrated his belief in the equality and professional advancement of women. Under his guidance his daughter Elaine and son Hewitt became attorneys, his daughter Lois a teacher with Masters Degrees in Speech Correction, Dramatic Production and Library Science, and his daughter Alberta a French scholar and a journalist/businesswoman.
His deep interest in the welfare and education of children and adults generally led him to serve as a Director of the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum of Brooklyn, a Trustee of the Education Committee of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, and as a President of the Brooklyn Council, Boy Scouts of America. An ardent supporter of the Boy Scouts, he went on weekend camping trips with the scout troops even when he was an elected Supreme Court Justice.
In 1930 Governor Roosevelt appointed him to the County Court, Kings County. He often displayed tremendous sensitivity and kindness toward those who had become enmeshed in the criminal court system due to poverty resulting from the Great Depression.
While attending a luncheon hosted by the Brooklyn Insurance Brokers' Association, Judge Conway was asked whether he might prefer his former position of Superintendent of Insurance to his present position as County Judge. Judge Conway responded "At eighteen, every young lawyer is bitten by the bug of being a judge. He may never be satisfied unless he is let be a judge for a little while. Then he will get over it."26 The attendees then "nominated" him for Governor and expressed their hope that, someday, he might occupy the executive chair in Albany.27
In 1931 Judge Conway was elected to the Supreme Court, Kings County, again with bipartisan support.
On September 19, 1933, he married Alice M. O'Neil of Brooklyn. Alice was the first cousin and life-long friend of his first wife, Irene, and had served as a witness to that marriage.28
Pre- and Post-World War II
In 1937, after five years of service in Supreme Court, the Appellate Division, Second Department assigned Judge Conway to the Appellate Term. Two years later, Governor Lehman announced his intention to appoint Justice Conway to the position of Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals, to fill a vacancy created by the impending resignation of Associate Judge John F. O'Brien. When interviewed about his pending appointment, he was asked about his hobbies, which he summed up in three words: family, Scouts and work.29
Following his appointment as an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals (1940), by bipartisan nomination, he was elected to that position in the same year. While serving on the Court, he and his family were personally involved in World War II. His son, Hewitt, was a Captain in the Army while his daughter, Alberta, worked for the Office of War Information in London where she broadcast to the Free French of the Interior, the anti Nazi underground organization. During these years Judge Conway and his state side family members gathered in his study every night, anxiously listening to the eleven o'clock news on the radio to hear the latest reports on the bombings in London, always mindful of the safety of those who were abroad. During this time, his mother died on November 29, 1945.
After World War II, all family members, safely reunited, often frequented Ebbets Field on Sunday afternoons. Judge Conway purchased tickets from his friend and the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Walter F. O'Malley, and he and his family watched the Brooklyn Dodgers games from Mr. O'Malley's box behind the dugout.30 There, Judge Conway ardently rooted, cheered and munched on a hot dog, all the while dressed formally in his three-piece suit and straw hat. When he and his family went on summer vacations, whether in Long Island, upstate New York, Canada or Maine, they took turns holding a single radio at precise angles to obtain the best reception, in order to better follow the Dodgers.
While on the Court, Judge Conway was nominated as a compromise candidate for Governor.31 Although buttons and other campaign materials were produced,32 he did not run for the executive chair.
Chief Judge and Beyond
Judge Conway was appointed Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals on January 1, 1954. His longest serving Law Clerk (1951 1959), James F. Niehoff, now retired, recalls that as an Associate Judge and later as Chief Judge, Albert Conway believed that a mastery of the facts of a particular case was critical to achieving the proper result. In particular, James Niehoff points to the decisions in People v. Trowbridge (305 NY 471 ) and People v. LaMarca (3 NY2d 452 , cert. denied 355 US 920 ) as demonstrating this quality.33 Niehoff, as well as another Law Clerk for one and one half years, David D. Siegel, warmly remember Judge Conway as a dignified man both in speech and appearance who was kind to his staff and to those who appeared before him, and as a teacher and a friend.34
Deeply involved in reforming and improving the administration of justice, in 1955 Chief Judge Conway recommended the creation of the State Judicial Conference and became its first Chairman, and then selected the first State Administrator and his Counsel. After the Legislature failed to accept the Tweed Commission's plans for court reorganization, he agreed on behalf of the State Judicial Conference to undertake the drafting of a revised plan.35
Completed in November 1958, the proposals were incorporated in the court modernization bill passed by the Legislature in 1959. As Chairman, he sponsored the modernization of court records and systems, including the installation of IBM machines to receive, code and promptly tabulate data. His leadership in the movement to modernize the state courts led to their reorganization in 1962.36
As Chief Judge, he also oversaw the first reconstruction of the Court of Appeals building in Albany, completed in 1959, ensuring that it was modernized while retaining the architecture and flavor of the traditional structure.37
At the family's famed Thanksgiving dinners, while dressed in his traditional morning suit with accompanying pocket watch chain, Judge Conway carved each of the requisite two turkeys, and impressed his grandchildren by lighting the home made plum puddings prepared from his mother's recipe. After dinner, everyone retired to the parlor where the grandchildren formed a line in front of him and, depending upon each child's age, he distributed a gift of a toy or several consecutively numbered crisp, new, one dollar bills. He then led everyone in hours of song, his booming voice rising joyfully over the accompanying baby grand piano being played by a family member.
Judge Conway retired as Chief Judge on December 31, 1959, having reached the statutory age of 70. From 1960 to 1962 he served as an Official Referee of the Court of Appeals. From 1962 to 1966 he again served on the Supreme Court, Kings County.
During his lifetime, Judge Conway received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from several respected schools including Fordham University (1930), St. John's College (1932), Syracuse University (1949), Manhattan College (1951), New York Law School (1956) and Union College (1957).38
In addition to serving as a Director, Trustee and President of numerous child and adult welfare and educational organizations, he was a former Trustee of St. John's University, President of the Emerald Association, Trustee Emeritus of the Greater New York Savings Bank and a lifelong member of the American Cancer Society. A devout Roman Catholic, he was a Knight of St. Gregory and a Knight of Malta.
Judge Conway died in his 81st year on May 18, 1969.39 He was survived by his wife Alice, his four children, their spouses and 15 grandchildren. By that time, he had served on the bench for more than 35 years, and he still held the title of Ex Officio Chairman of the State Judicial Conference. His wake was held at his home at 845 Carroll Street with the viewing in the parlor, next to the piano. He is buried at St. John's Cemetery in Queens.
Albert Conway's eldest daughter Alberta Irene (d. 2006) married Edwin M. Jones of Bridgeport, Connecticut, an attorney who ultimately headed the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. They had five children: Michele (Delmhorst), Alberta (Will), Karen (Fronio), Edwin and Marianne (McNee). The eldest, Michele, is an attorney specializing in tax, as well as trusts and estates. The remaining children work in business and banking.
Elaine Margaret worked as a Law Secretary for a New York State Surrogate. She married Edward J. McLaughlin of Brooklyn, an attorney who worked at the Corporation Counsel for the City of New York and who became the Chairman of the New York State Liquor Authority. They had seven children: Edward, Irene (Sheehy), Gregory, Kathryn and Joseph (twins), Marian (O'Connor) and Mark. The eldest, Edward, is an Acting Supreme Court Justice in New York State. The remaining children work in education, medicine, business, corrections and the merchant marine.
Hewitt Arthur became a nationally-recognized attorney in the tax and trust and estates fields. He married Jeanne Louise O'Brien of Loudonville, New York, who became an executive for a Fortune 100 corporation. They had two children, Louise and Irene (Coleman). Louise is an attorney who served as a Law Secretary to a former Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, and is now a Court Attorney/Referee for a New York State court. Irene works in editing.
Lois Jane married Dr. Ralph Crabill, a professor at the Smithsonian Institute. Their son John is an attorney in private practice specializing in tax, trusts and estates.
The family of Albert Conway now includes 25 great-grandchildren.
This biography appears in The Judges of the New York Court of Appeals: A Biographical History, ed. Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007). It has not been updated since publication.
Albert Conway - Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals: A Tribute, 34 St. John's L Rev 1 (1959).
Birth, marriage, death, bar admission and school records.*
Grimes, The Contribution of Judge Albert Conway to the Jurisprudence of New York, 24 Fordham L Rev 1 (1955).
Letters written by Albert Conway, his wife Irene Hewitt Conway, and by Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as letters written to Albert Conway.*
In Memoriam, 25 NY2d vii (1969).
Miller, Book Review, 3 Buff L Rev 340 (1954).
Newspaper articles and clippings compiled by Albert Conway's mother, and by Albert Conway and his family. Many of the articles/clippings do not identify the newspapers in which they were published or the date of publication, and many were published in newspapers which are no longer in circulation. Included are articles/clippings from: The Brooklyn Citizen; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle; The Brooklyn Standard Union; The Brooklyn Times Union; The Brooklyn Weekly Eagle; The Buffalo Evening News; The Evening World; The New York Evening Journal; The New York Sun; The New York Times; and Weekly Chat. Publication by the Brooklyn Council, Boy Scouts of America, entitled The Council Ring.*
Personalities in the News, 1 Cath Law 68 (1955).
Photographs and memorabilia.*
Portrait Presentation, 8 NY2d vii (1960).
Remembrances of Lois Conway Crabill, Albert Conway's youngest daughter, March 2005.*
Retirement Tribute, 7 NY2d vii (1959).
Taylor, Eminent Members of the Bench and Bar of New York 16 (1943).
Written and oral remembrances of Alberta Conway Jones, Elaine Conway McLaughlin and Hewitt Arthur Conway, as related and provided by Albert Conway's grandchildren, March and April, 2005.
Published Writings Include:
In addition to more than 500 decisions while on the Court of Appeals, and considerably more during the course of his judicial career, Judge Conway prepared and delivered several speeches to law school and high school graduating classes* which were reported in the newspaper articles referred to in "SOURCES" above.
Documents he wrote in service as Superintendent of Insurance and as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. Some of these are listed on www.Amazon.com and include "Address of Chief Judge Albert Conway, Conference of Chief Justices," August, 1958, and "Rate Cutting and its Aftermath."
Investments of Insurance Companies, 1 NYSBA Bull 339 (1929).
Address, Testimonial Dinner to Charles S. Rosensweig, 40 Insurance Advocate 538 (1929).
Congested CalendarsBAnd Why, 6 Buff L Rev 1 (1956).
Importance of the Juvenile Court Judge, 7 Juv Ct Judges J 13 (1956).
Separation of Powers Doctrine: Historical Sources, 2 NYLF 351 (1956).
Report of Chief Judge Albert Conway for the Court of Appeals and as Chairman of the Judicial Conference, 3 NYLF 372 (1957).
Documents, newspaper articles, remembrances, speeches, photoghraphs, and memorabilia on file with the author are indicated by asterisks in Sources Consulted, Publishied Writings, and Endnotes."