June 19, 1918 – Jan. 13, 2018
World War II veteran Joseph J. Sedita was more than a respected city and State Supreme Court judge, according to those who knew him. He was a compassionate man whose outreach to those with mental health and addiction issues was as admired as was his expertise in matrimonial law.
Judge Sedita, brother of late Buffalo Mayor Frank A. Sedita, died Saturday, eight months after the death of his wife. He was 99.
"He told me many times, 'I love you son, but I want to be with your mom,' " said his son Joseph V. Sedita. "And now he is. She was the great love of his life. If there was anything that really lit him up, it was her."
A Buffalo native, Judge Sedita came of age in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. He graduated from Grover Cleveland High School and took postgraduate courses in typing and shorthand, which served him well his entire life, said his son.
He fell "madly in love" with Antoinette Faso and married her in 1942, when he also was drafted into the U.S. Army and finally earned enough to support a family. Together, his son said, his trim and wiry parents didn't weigh 200 pounds.
The new Army soldier trained in Fort Monmouth, N.J., and raced carrier pigeons for fun while stationed there, his son said.
He served in the Army from 1942 until 1945, assigned to a repair and supply depot in Honolulu as a technical sergeant. After his discharge, he took advantage of the GI Bill and graduated from the University of Buffalo Law School in 1950.
Judge Sedita went on to establish a private, general law practice downtown until his older brother was elected mayor of Buffalo and appointed him as a City Court judge in the late 1950s.
As a City Court judge dealing with defendants who often suffered mental health and addiction problems, Judge Sedita gained a reputation as a compassionate administrator of justice. His son recalled when his father would take his turn supervising Sunrise Court, which handled arraignments and bail hearings on Saturday and Sunday mornings. He never left without stopping in at the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings after his court duties were done and offering some words of encouragement to attendees.
After one bitterly cold night in the dead of winter, police picked up a known, homeless alcoholic on a drunk-and-disorderly charge in order to keep the man from freezing to death on the streets. Sedita recalled his father on the bench having the following conversation with the man.
"He said, 'It's awful cold out there, isn't it Tommy?' " the son recounted, before asking the homeless defendant how long he want to stay in the warm jail.
"Tommy said, 'April would be nice,' " the son recalled.
So Judge Sedita imposed a jail sentence of illegal length just to keep the man indoors until the weather improved.
"My dad would never send him to jail just to send him to jail, but he was afraid he was going to die," his son said.
Because of his compassionate responses to people with alcohol and psychiatric issues, Judge Sedita was once awarded the title of Mental Health Worker of the Year.
The judge and his wife moved to Amherst in the 1970s, and finally settled in Orchard Park later in life.
After a failed bid for a Family Court seat, Sedita was elected a State Supreme Court justice and served from 1976 through the early 1990s. His expertise in matrimonial law, and his swift and compassionate handling of divorce cases, led him to receive two awards from the Matrimonial Law Committee of the Erie County Bar Association for his excellence in service to community, his son said.
After retiring from the bench, Judge Sedita continued to work part time as a state judicial hearing officer, settling divorce cases and supervising jury selection in civil cases. He continued in that role until he was 89.
Judge Sedita was former president of the Judges and Police Executives Conference, a local policy organization; and a member of several churches, including St. Gregory the Great Church. He was also a longtime member of the Transit Valley Country Club and enjoyed golfing.
When his wife of 75 years died of cancer last May, Judge Sedita was heartbroken, his son said. Though his mental faculties had diminished over time, he remained in good physical health until a few weeks preceding his death.
The cremated remains of Joseph and Antoinette Sedita will be interred in the family plot of Forest Lawn Cemetery in June after a Mass of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. June 18 in Blessed Sacrament Church, 1085 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.
"I want them to be together, and I didn't want to do it in the cold," said Joseph Sedita.
Judge Sedita is survived by his son.