Your moving obituary of Judge Bernard S. Meyer overlooked at least one of his many generous public service contributions–as one of the commissioners appointed in 1987 by Governor Mario M. Cuomo to the New York State Commission on Government Integrity. It was on that commission, which I served as executive director, that I had the honor to meet and work closely with Judge Meyer for three years.
Judge Meyer–who preferred to eschew the formality of that title– was the perfect mentor and role model for the entire staff of the commission and his fellow commissioners. In his 70s when he served on the commission, he combined a youthful energy and sparkle-eyed sense of humor with the judgment and wisdom of the elder statesman. He was a meticulous wordsmith, but always a thoughtful editor and teacher, who made it a privilege to receive his suggestions and edits.
Our profession has too few members who combine Bernie Meyer’s quiet integrity, thoughtfulness, self-effacing wisdom and precision of expression. He will be missed.
Bernard S. Meyer, a former New York Court of Appeals judge and a founding partner of Meyer Suozzi English & Klein, a politically powerful Long Island firm, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 89.
Judge Meyer served on the state’s highest court from 1979 to 1986. By the time he did so, he had already served 14 years as a Nassau County Supreme Court justice, where he wrote the decision in Engel v. Vitale, a landmark school prayer case. While the 1959 ruling upheld the petitioner’s right to challenge the prayer policy in the New Hyde Park school district, then-Justice Meyer did not hold that such prayers were unconstitutional, instead remanding the matter to the school board to revisit the issue. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 banned the policy outright.
Mr. Meyer also served the state as special deputy attorney general in charge of the investigation into the 1971 Attica Prison riots; as special counsel to the Moreland Commission to Study Workers’ Compensation Administration and Costs; and as chairman of the Advisory Panel to the Law Revision Commission on the New York Code of Evidence, among other significant posts.
He was also a fellow of the American Bar Foundation and the American College of Trial Lawyers.
In 1960, Mr. Meyer established Meyer Suozzi English & Klein with former Glen Cove Mayor Joseph A. Suozzi, former Nassau Democratic Party Chair John F. English and one-time Suffolk Executive John V.N. Klein.
As the firm expanded to Suffolk County, Manhattan, Albany and Washington D.C., other well-known politicians joined, including former state Senator and Secretary of State Basil Patterson, President Clinton’s former advisor and deputy chief of staff Harold M. Ikes, and former Suffolk executive Robert Gaffney.
‘Judge Meyer was a brilliant legal scholar, a great wit, and true friend. We at Meyer Suozzi are deeply saddened by his passing and deeply thankful for his presence among us these many years,’ managing partner Lois Carter Schlissel said in a statement.
A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland School of Law, Mr. Meyer was born in Baltimore in 1916.
Admitted to the Maryland bar in 1938, he interrupted his practice to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1949.
Mr. Meyer is survived by his wife, Hortense, and three daughters Patricia Meyer, Gail LaPlante, and Lee Handel.
He will be honored with a ceremony at Nassau Supreme Court’s Central Jury part on Sept. 19 at 9:30 a.m. Donations in his honor may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.