If Richard Rosenbloom were the sort of man to sport a tattoo, it would read: Born to judge.
But two years ago, at age 60 and after nearly two decades on the bench, he lost his state Supreme Court seat in a close election.
Rosenbloom, now a senior counsel with Boylan, Brown, Code, Fowler, Vigdor & Wilson LLP and installed last week as president-elect of the Monroe County Bar Association, concedes that the 1994 defeat was “a disappointment.”
Others who have long known him say it was a severe blow to a man whose identity was so wrapped up with a judicial persona.
“It was devastating for him,” Family Court Judge Michael Miller says. “It’s a tribute to him personally that he came through it.”
Sandford Leibschutz concurs.
A partner with Chamberlain, D’Amanda, Oppenheimer & Greenfield, Leibschutz for 12 years was Rosenbloom’s partner in a now-disbanded firm.
Whatever disappointment he suffered then, Rosenbloom is now upbeat about a future he sees as affording him many of his former vocation’s satisfactions sans any of its headaches.
A figure who commands enormous respect among Monroe County’s tight-knit legal community, Rosenbloom is seen by its members as a victim of a political system that constrains judicial candidates from much engaging in virtually any serious electioneering yet subjects them to voter whim.
A Democrat, Rosenbloom in 1994 was virtually unknown to most of a heavily Republican electorate in the outlying counties of New York’s 7th Judicial District, Leibschutz notes.
“Even as a Republican, I have trouble with Dick’s loss,” he says.
The 7th Judicial District includes Cayuga, Yates, Livingston, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben and Wayne counties as well as Monroe County.
If the election had polled only attorneys who knew Rosenbloom, it would have been no contest, Miller maintains.
As a judge, he declined to publicly venture an opinion on the politics of Rosenbloom’s loss.
But as a former Monroe County Democratic Party chief, Miller well knows the difficulty judicial candidates face in getting their names before an electorate that typically votes the judicial row along party lines.
In much of the state, Leibschutz notes, the two major parties tacitly recognize the special difficulties of judicial races, and agree to cross-endorse a single slate of judges.
Here there was no cross-endorsement, and in a year that saw four-term incumbent Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo lose to a Republican, Rosenbloom went down on his own low name recognition and Cuomo’s coattails, Leibschutz avers, a view Rosenbloom himself shares.
Regardless, defeat’s sting faded with the rise of a new career heading Boylan, Brown’s arbitration and mediation practice. Similarly, he looks ahead to what he intends to be an activist term heading the Bar Association.
The post commands 40 percent to 50 percent of Rosenbloom’s time. He intends to be an activist president, working primarily to see that the Bar Association better addresses the legal needs of the poor.
The indigent get public help, and the rich can afford high-priced lawyers. But a large group in between can face civil suits or divorce actions without legal help.
In the longer term, Rosenbloom may well be remembered for his role in the forefront of arbitration.
A sort of enhanced settlement process for civil disputes with an extra roll of the dice, arbitration is seen by many in the legal profession as a coming thing.
Like the erstwhile litigants in Judge Wapner’s television court, disputing parties who agree to arbitration also agree to forgo their rights to put their case before a jury and to accept the arbitrator’s decision as final.
Neither elected nor appointed to serve in an official courtroom, arbitrators act as virtual judges whose decision is more final than those of their courtroom counterparts, whose rulings can be appealed to as many as three higher courts.
For litigants, who can wait months or even years for their cases to come up in court, the process is an attractive shortcut that shaves dollars off legal bills.
In many cases, disputants in arbitrated cases also hedge their bets with a so-called “high-low agreement.” In such pacts, plaintiffs agree beforehand to cap cash awards if the decision goes in their favor, while defendants promise to make a minimum payment if the decision goes against them.
For example, firms litigating a contract dispute agree to a high of $75,000 and a low of $10,000. If the arbitrator says the defendant should pay $200,000, the payout is $75,000. If the arbitrator says the defendant is liable for nothing, a $10,000 payment still is required.
Rosenbloom believes arbitration–already a fixture in downstate courts, where some 20 percent of the civil caseload is shunted to arbitrators–will become increasingly important in Monroe County courts as their calendars approach the gridlock that has long plagued New York City-area courts. Currently, courts here send roughly 5 percent of their caseload to arbitration.
A draft report due out next month from Chief Judge Judith Kaye will urge New York courts to shunt more cases to arbitration, he says.
Rosenbloom says as an arbitrator he exercises precisely the same skills as he used on the bench, but the role frees him of the frustrations–crowded calendars and limited public resources–that afflict judges.
As a judge, Rosenbloom says, he was computer-illiterate. The courts provided outmoded word processors for clerical help but had no money to buy computers for judges.
Boylan, Brown–Rochester’s fifth- largest law firm–has state-of-the-art computers and has trained him to use them. Writing decisions in longhand is a thing of the past.
He likewise has the satisfaction of seeing arbitrated cases settled in a matter of weeks as opposed to months on the bench.
Mediation–the other half of his Boylan, Brown practice–also harks to skills honed on the bench in five years as a Family Court judge, Rosenbloom says.
Unlike arbitration, mediation is not binding. The process is an attempt to get litigants to settle without going to court with a mediator acting as a facilitator between the disputants and their respective attorneys.
More than half the cases that are mediated stay out of the courts, Rosenbloom says, and so it too will play an increasingly important role in easing court congestion.
One thing Rosenbloom does not do–and has no plans to return to–is courtroom litigation. He advises Boylan, Brown’s trial staff, but arguing cases himself is not on his agenda.
Even as an attorney, Rosenbloom’s eye was on the bench, Leibschutz says. However, he aimed for it not for the mark of personal prestige but as an acolyte.
“(Rosenbloom) loves the law,” Leibschutz says. “His ambition was to serve it, and I think he always saw (the bench) as the best way he could do that. For him, it was never about prestige or money.”
A Rochester native, Rosenbloom decided on a legal career even before he graduated from Monroe High School in 1950.
He majored in political science at Cornell University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1954 and as an ROTC student went into the Army.
After two years on active duty as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps in Germany, Rosenbloom entered the Columbia University School of Law in New York City, and received a law degree in 1959.
Married three years by the time he graduated, he considered and rejected the idea of trying to carve out a career with a big, New York City firm. Instead, he returned to Rochester.
Rosenbloom and his wife, Beatrice, now are approaching their 39th wedding anniversary. The couple are parents to two daughters: Karen, 36, a school psychologist, and Nancy, 34, an attorney.
While the glamour of the big city had its attractions, Rochester seemed a community more suited to his temperament, Rosenbloom says.
Even in 1959, he says, the early signs of urban decay were evident. And from a professional perspective, the collegiality of Rochester’s legal community seemed more appealing than the hard-edged competitiveness of the New York City legal scene.
Initially, he worked for Nussbaum, Tarricone & Bilgor, a small, now-defunct firm at which he handled a gamut of general-practice work–litigation, real estate closings, divorce actions and the like.
In 1962, Rosenbloom, Leibschutz, Goodman Sarachan, Jack Herman and Harold Samloff formed a firm in which Rosenbloom continued as a partner until Gov. Hugh Carey appointed him to a Family Court slot in 1975.
A year earlier, Rosenbloom–always an active Democrat–ran in a losing bid for a state Supreme Court seat. He placed sixth in a field of 10 candidates. The top five vote getters won seats.
Such Family Court appointments as Rosenbloom received after losing the seat often are thrown to attorneys in just that position. Family Court generally is seen as an entry-level judicial job, and appointees often angle to leave the court as soon as they can.
In five years on the court, however, Rosenbloom did not merely mark time.
In 1975, the court–established in New York in 1962–was a relatively young institution. It was intended to provide a forum for cases for which the existing legal system is too hard-edged, criminal cases involving minors and child-abuse cases, for example.
Rosenbloom was one of several Young Turk judges who thought the court leaned too far toward social work, and actively sought to put it on a more legalistic footing.
The group–Rosenbloom, Elizabeth Pine and David Corbett–succeeded, attaining changes that Miller says were sorely needed.
In its early days, he says, Family Court was dominated by social workers who sincerely advocated for their charges but too often neglected the law in the process.
As a law guardian, Miller was a frequent official observer in Rosenbloom’s Family Court. Before the reforms Rosenbloom sought were instituted, “people’s rights were being neglected,” he says.
A rarity in that he has no ambitions to move up to Supreme Court, Miller describes the job as still “heartbreaking,” but far easier than it would have been without Rosenbloom’s groundwork.
Rosenbloom says he enjoyed his time in Family Court, but was ready for “a different opportunity” when he ran for Supreme Court a second time in 1980, this time narrowly squeaking through a victory.
On the Supreme Court bench, Rochester attorney James Piampiano says, Rosenbloom was a paragon of fairness, evoking admiration even from those he decided against.
“He was always a gentleman first, a legal scholar second, but a gentleman first. You could win or lose, and I lost some tough cases before him, but you always knew he’d treated your client fairly.”
In 1994, Rosenbloom concedes, by no means was he ready to leave the seat. Still, he says, he will not seek another.
“I’m enjoying freedom in my schedule,” he says. “I’m working with a fantastic group of lawyers. I found out there is life after the bench.”
Richard Rosenbloom: A former judge finds new life in the law
If Richard Rosenbloom were the sort of man to sport a tattoo, it would read: Born to judge.