James P.B. Duffy was born on November 25, 1878 in Rochester, one of nine children. He was educated at Nazareth Hall and The Rochester Free Academy before attending Georgetown University, from which he graduated in 1901, and Harvard University, where he received his law degree in 1904. He was admitted to the bar the same year and began practice in partnership with J. B. Perkins, a member of Congress. He abandoned the practice of law in 1914 acceding to his father's request to take over as manager of The Duffy-Powers Department Store, the family business. There he remained until the concern went bankrupt in 1932.
Duffy was an avid Democratic Party member and held a series of political posts before and after his period on the bench. He was a member of the State Alcoholic Control Board from 1933-35, a member of Congress from 1935-1937, departing due to his defeat for renomination in 1936. He sat on the State Probation Commission from 1938-1944, and on the Rochester School Board for twenty-eight years. He was appointed to the Supreme Court on April 20, 1937 but was defeated by Nathan Latham in the subsequent election and departed at the close of the year. He practiced law in partnership from 1938 onward.
Duffy is a quite minor character with respect to the history of the judiciary in this area, but certainly a notable in a more general history. He was ubiquitous. He was a founder and for fifty-two years Director of Family Services of Rochester, fifty-two years a Trustee of the Chamber of Commerce, thirty-four years a counsel to the local Red Cross, forty-two years a Trustee of the Community Chest, thirty-four years a Commissioner of the Rochester Museum, thirty-four years a Trustee of the Rochester Savings Bank, thirty-two years a Director and one year President of the local Automobile Club, fifty-two years a Trustee of St. Patrick's Church and three years a functionary of the United Service Organization. He was a member of nine different clubs and brotherhoods. He received numerous honors during the course of his life, most notable his designation as a Knight of St. Gregory and a Knight of Malta by Pope Pius XI. He went to Mass every day, carried a missal at all times, and meticulously recorded in all his diaries. He died at St. Anne's Home in Rochester on January 8, 1969.