July 3, 1955 — July 25, 2019
Attorney Dennis C. Gaughan adopted an unusual courtroom practice when he advised his clients to apologize to police officers, recalled Hamburg Town Justice Carl W. Morgan.
“The offense was usually not too egregious in misdemeanor court, but it made me chuckle,” Morgan said. “It wasn’t unusual for him to get choked up when he was advocating for a defendant. You could tell it affected him. He had a good heart.”
Mr. Gaughan, who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, died unexpectedly Thursday at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was 64.
Mr. Gaughan, born in Hamburg, attended St. Francis High School in Athol Springs. He graduated from Syracuse University and New York Law School.
He married the former Mary Rose DeBergalis on Sept. 22, 1989.
He was a compassionate advocate, recalled Mrs. Gaughan. She recalled her husband visiting convicts at Erie County Medical Center and counseling defendants who were caught stealing at Walmart to feed their heroin habit.
“ ‘Everyone has these problems,’ he’d say, 'but some people don’t know how to deal with them,’ ” Mrs. Gaughan said. "He'd always have someone sitting in his office. He was great counselor. He had a different perspective on things.”
Some colorful clients passed through her husband's office.
There was Sonny Miano, the Helping Hands manager convicted of grand larceny for stealing money from the soup kitchen. At Miano’s sentencing, Mr. Gaughan asked the judge for leniency, comparing him to former President Bill Clinton: "Will President Clinton be remembered for eight years of prosperity or (his affair with) Monica Lewinsky?” Mr. Gaughan asked the judge, according to reports published in December 2000.
In 2001, Mr. Gaughan took the case of Frank Masterana, a bookmaker who was banned for life by the Nevada Gaming Commission.
Mr. Gaughan was appointed assistant attorney and town prosecutor in Hamburg, as well as village prosecutor in Blasdell.
He was the son of the late Charles J. Gaughan, a former Hamburg supervisor and state court judge.
Mr. Gaughan also wanted to serve in the supervisor post, but was not successful in his bids for Hamburg town supervisor in 2009 and 2017. During his candidacy in 2009, he supported downsizing the Hamburg Town Board from five members to three, a nod to his cousin, Kevin Gaughan, a proponent of downsizing and regionalism.
“It was his aspiration to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he was never able to fulfill his dream,” Morgan said. “He was imaginative, and it showed in his legal practice and his political activities. He was very successful in his practice so he had something working for him.”
Mrs. Gaughan saw a silver lining in his election loss.
“Things went so well for his practice after he ran in 2009 that maybe it was a blessing in disguise,” she said. “Residents really liked him when he went door-to-door campaigning. If they needed a lawyer, they said they would go to him.”
Charles Gaughan graduated from the University at Buffalo Law School. He called his father his hero.
"I was asked who my hero was on my application to middle school," said Charles Gaughan. "It's my father. He helped anyone for any reason regardless if they had the money to pay him."
In 2011, Mr. Gaughan lost his bid for the 9th District seat in the Erie County Legislature, representing Hamburg, Lackawanna and South Buffalo.
Mr. Gaughan spent much of his time in recent years practicing bankruptcy law. He appeared frequently before Chief Judge Carl L. Bucki in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
“Dennis was a well-liked practitioner in the legal community, particularly in the bankruptcy practice,” Bucki said.
Mr. Gaughan, who served in the United States Army Reserve, was a volunteer firefighter for Scranton Volunteer Fire Co. He belonged to the American Legion Post 527, VFW Post 1419, AMVETS Ray Metty Memorial Post 897 and the Hamburg Knights of Columbus.
His collection of presidential campaign memorabilia was acknowledged throughout the legal community. His office walls were covered with framed posters — including one from 1896, when Republican William McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan.
Mr. Gaughan and his wife enjoyed traveling. Their last trip to Cuba fulfilled Mr. Gaughan’s dream to visit the home of Ernest Hemingway, his wife said.
In addition to his wife Mary Rose and son Charles, Mr. Gaughan is survived by two other sons, Dennis and Joseph; his mother, Mary Louise Rucker; two sisters, Nancy Gaughan and Lynn Snyder; and one grandchild.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 3 at St. Mary of the Lake Church, 4737 Lake Shore Road, Hamburg.