Sorrow flows at the passing of one of the most respected and skilled lawyers and judges of his generation. Former Court of Appeals Judge Matthew J. Jasen, who died Saturday at the age of 90, was both a brilliant legal mind and a respected adviser who guided the practice of law in this region and nationally.
Jasen was the first Polish-American and the last Western New Yorker to sit on the state's highest court, serving there for 18 years, becoming senior associate judge there before retiring at the legally mandated age of 70 (a mandate he upheld in writing the high court's opinion on its validity). He also was a highly regarded arbiter who, even in retirement, was called upon by the U.S. Supreme Court to work as a "special master" deciding such questions as the proper location of the Illinois-Kentucky boundary along the Ohio River. He was known for clear and concise opinions, and for his mentoring of lawyers and judges.
He was a forceful arguer and legal scholar whose fairly common early year dissents to Court of Appeals decisions in several areas were later vindicated in subsequent court rulings, sometimes after his retirement. He won a string of legal honors, including a special Buffalo Law Review issue featuring accolades from the state's top judges.
Jasen should have been New York's chief judge; he was proposed for that post by a nominating commission in the late 1970s, but passed over by then-Gov. Hugh Carey for a more politically connected junior judge. As a conservative Democrat and fiercely independent thinker, Jasen had distanced himself from politics while serving on the high court; that cost him politically, but provides a truer measure of his worth as a judge.
Even during his retirement, New Yorkers benefited from Jasen's fair-mindedness and independence as he joined or led task forces and committees dealing with matters such as judicial conduct or traffic court fairness, and state agency adjudication procedures. Jasen was a champion of the rule of law, and a man who would have desired no other epitaph.