HUDSON — When people ascend to the bench in a court of law, many want to keep climbing — from New York state Supreme Court to appellate courts and beyond.
But Judge John Connor Jr., Hudson City Court judge, said his father wasn’t like that.
He found his place as a Supreme Court justice and stuck with it — something not many in his position do, he said.
“I think the thing about my dad was even though he was on the Supreme Court, he was still a humble guy,” John Connor Jr. said. “He was one of those guys who always thought he was the underdog and always gave everybody a day in court.”
After an illustrious life behind the bench for Columbia County and the state, Judge John G. Connor of Hudson died Oct. 4 at the age of 90.
Connor served more than two decades as a Supreme Court justice in New York’s Third Judicial District — including Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster counties — after being elected in 1982 and reelected in 1996, according to his obituary. He retired in 2006.
Born June 24, 1931, Connor attended Philmont High School, attended St. Michael’s College and served two years in the U.S. Army before graduating from Albany Law School in 1957.
Connor made local history early in his legal career by becoming the first Democrat elected district attorney in Columbia County in more than a century, from 1965-67, and serving as the attorney for the village of Philmont for many years.
Connor was married to his wife and high school sweetheart, Joan, for 64 years, and had three children.
John Connor Jr. said his father’s life inspired his children.
“I think the fact that I became a lawyer and also my brother became a lawyer showed the influence from a young age,” John Connor Jr. said.
The family’s legal legacy goes back many generations. Upon passing the Bar, John Connor founded the legal firm Connor, Millman & Connor with his father, which later became Connor, Curran, Connor, Flint & Schram, according to his obituary. And prior to that, John’s grandfather served as Columbia County treasurer, John Connor Jr. said.
Although it appeared Connor retired from legal and public service in 2006, it was actually the beginning of a new chapter: Connor and his son, John Connor Jr. worked at the law firm Connor & Connor together.
“He was one of those old country lawyers who literally never officially retires,” John Connor Jr. said. “His office is still there and he’s got his diplomas hanging on the wall and things like that.”
John Connor Jr. said his father’s “good guy” demeanor became especially apparent when he joined the Bar, but at the time, John Connor Jr. wrote it off as other lawyers trying to get in good graces with his father.
“I became a lawyer after he was on the Supreme Court and the other lawyers would tell me, ‘Oh, he’s a great guy, we love him, he’s a great guy,’ and you kind of take that with a grain of salt,” John Connor Jr. said. “You’re kind of like, ‘Yeah, you’re just trying to butter him up by telling me to tell him but he retired 16 years ago and people still to this day, lawyers come up to me and say, ‘You know, what a great guy he was. He gave everybody the opportunity.’”
That reputation was what got John Connor through the 1996 election to the Supreme Court’s bench; John Connor Jr. said his father’s opponent poured money into the campaign against him, but despite the efforts, John Connor was reelected.
“People realized he was just a guy who was there for the everyday man. He wasn’t some spokesman for the rich or things like that — he was just an everyday guy who was on the bench there,” his son said.
Connor also served as president of the Columbia County Bar Association from 1980-83, was a member of the Board of Trustees of Columbia-Greene Community College from 1980-86, a member of the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion and the Hudson Elks Club, according to his obituary.
David Dellehunt served as John Connor’s law clerk from 1997-2006, and he said Connor was a sought-after judge in the area. The court system recognized his promise and his abilities as a trial lawyer and judge, and as such served as a trial judge in seven surrounding counties, including as an individual assignment judge.
“He was a kind of a unique judge in the sense that he was a person that not only understood the law, but he also understood people, which is an important characteristic for a judge because he was able to understand the people that came before him,” Dellehunt said. “He understood that the stuff that we did was important, and made it a huge difference in people’s lives.”
Connor’s aptitude also resulted in a number of published cases at a time when criteria for publication was selective, Dellehunt said.
A key element of his practice of law was deeply rooted in Connor, Dellehunt said.
“He never forgot where he came from either, which made him kind of a good judge, because sometimes I think people lose sight of the community they came from ... but he was the kind of a local guy that always remembered he was a local guy,” Dellehunt said.