Matthew J. Jasen, a retired State Court of Appeals judge who was a towering figure in Buffalo's legal circles for more than 50 years, died Saturday in his Orchard Park home after a long illness. He was 90.
Judge Jasen, the last Western New Yorker to sit on the state's highest court, had battled cancer for a long time, family members said.
"The good thing is, he was alert and mentally sharp right up until the last two weeks," said Mark M., his son and law colleague. "Right up until that time, he still had the mental capability to go back and serve on the Court of Appeals."
A native of Buffalo's East Side who served as a legal officer with the Army during World War II, Judge Jasen was one of the most honored graduates of the University at Buffalo Law School.
He served as a judge from 1957, when he was appointed to State Supreme Court, until 1985, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 and had to leave the Court of Appeals.
After that, he received the rare honor of being appointed several times by the U.S. Supreme Court as a special master overseeing major and complex court cases. In his final years, he worked with his two sons -- Mark of Amherst and Peter of Buffalo -- at their downtown law firm.
For decades, Judge Jasen served as adviser and mentor to dozens of Western New York's most prominent judges and attorneys.
"I loved this man like a father," said Michael B. Powers, a Buffalo lawyer and one of his protegees. "If you worked with Judge Jasen, he tried to help you become a better lawyer. He was a kind, considerate man, with common sense and good judgment. His family meant everything to him."
Powers was a law clerk for the judge from 1982 to 1984 in Buffalo and Albany.
"As a judge, he felt the most important things he could do were to judge cases fairly and to write clear, concise decisions that would provide guidance to lawyers and judges in the lower courts," Powers said. "He prided himself on writing decisions that could be understood. He didn't try to write things that were lofty or obtuse."
In addition to the UB Law School, Judge Jasen graduated from East High School and Canisius College. While serving in the Army as a lawyer and civil affairs officer during World War II, he reached the rank of captain.
After the war ended, he got his first judicial experience as a military judge in Heidelberg, Germany. In the late 1940s, he returned home to Buffalo and resumed his legal career.
After 10 years on the State Supreme Court, he was elected to the Court of Appeals -- then an elected position -- in 1967.
In a glowing editorial after he retired from the courts 18 years later, The Buffalo News wrote: "He leaves behind a rich legacy of more than 800 appellate opinions notable for their unfailing clarity, common sense and independent thinking, including some memorable dissents."
Judge Jasen was a longtime member of Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in Orchard Park. As of late Saturday, funeral arrangements were incomplete.
His first wife, the former Anastasia "Nettie" Gawinski, died in 1970; his second wife, the former Trudy Travers, died in 1972; and his third wife, the former Grace Fraudenheim, died in 2003.
In addition to his sons, survivors include two daughters, Christine MacLeod of Kenmore and Carol J. Sampson of East Aurora; 25 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.