23 Aug 2014
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Nassau Supreme Court Honors Retiring Judge

Portrait of East Meadow Justice Joseph Spinola unveiled at ceremony.

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In the in Mineola 92 portraits of former judges hang on the walls of the massive calendar courtroom. On Friday No. 93 was added.

“This is my first participation in a public hanging,” president-elect Sue Katz Richman joked as she helped unveil a portrait of Judge Joseph Spinola, who is retiring this year.

For about the past 100 years the bar association has donated a portrait of a retiring judge to the court .

“I think Judge Spinola is pretty much unquestionably the youngest of any judge to receive this particular honor,” Administrative Judge Anthony Marano said. “I think the one thing that separates him and that brings at least when you say ‘Joe Spinola’ and ‘judge’ I think kindness and compassion.”

Spinola will be joining the law firm of Helwig, Henderson Ryan & Spinola, LLP in Carle Place as a mediator.

“It is easy to say something nice to say about Joe Spinola,” partner Donald Henderson, an attorney who specializes in tort and medical malpractice, said. The two men had met more than 20 years ago when Spinola was a plaintiff lawyer and Henderson a defendant’s attorney. Henderson recalled a 30 minute conversation where he had opened up to Spinola in the very same room where his portrait would be hung.

“I realized why and the why is because when I sat down with Joe Spinola that afternoon it became clear to me very quickly this is a man of unique caring, this is a man who respected others, and he was someone you could trust,” Henderson said.

Spinola, an East Meadow resident, would go on to become a judge at both the district and supreme court levels. 

“When lawyers came before Judge Joe Spinola, they knew they were before a judge who understood what it was like to be a lawyer,” Henderson said. “They left that dispute and they left that lawsuit and they may not have won - they may have lost - but regardless of whether they won or they lost, they left it knowing that they had a judge who cared and took the time necessary to ensure that justice was done.”

Each of the speakers emphasized Spinola’s ability to relate to people, with Henderson recalling that the judge would call jurors into his chambers after each decision asking what was important to make the decision.

“Joe used to always say to me ‘Don, this makes me a better judge. If I learn what these people think I’m a better judge’ and he was right,” Henderson said. “Joe was here for a short time but his legacy is a long one.”

For such an occupation steeped in tradition, there’s “not much that’s traditional about him,” Richman said, citing Spinola’s time as both a wrestler, coach and “the one who goes above and beyond everything for anybody and the only thing traditional about him that I learned was his dedication to fairness and his sense of justice.”

Spinola showed no shortness of wit when he spoke, quipping “I still think I look better in person. It’s a nice portrait,” after the unveiling, and saying to Henderson “you read it exactly as I wrote it.”

In addition to numerous family and friends, Spinola also thanked several political leaders and attorneys whom he had had dealings with throughout his career.

“I tried to treat the lawyers and litigants the way I wanted to be treated when I was trying cases as a lawyer,” he said. “I hope to be remembered as a judge who listened, who was fair and tried his best.”

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