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Hon. Emory Albert Chase

From The Capital Region of New York State, Crossroads of Empire, 1942
Francis P. Kimball

Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin

wpe8.gif (36092 bytes) Hon. Emory Albert Chase---As a lawyer and jurist, the Hon. Emory Albert Chase earned a position of prominence in his home community of Catskill and in the surrounding district of Green County and New York State. He held several different judgeships, concluding his judicial service as a judge of the Court of Appeals of New York State, in which position he continued his activities until the close of his life.  His public spirit and his remarkable generosity and consideration for others caused him to be respected, honored and trusted in every quarter in which he was known.

Judge Chase was born August 31, 1854, at Hensonville, Greene County, New York, son of Albert and Laura Orinda (Woodworth) Chase. His mother was the daughter of Abner and Betsey (Judson) Woodworth, who were married in 1844 at East Jewett, New York. Judge Chase was a descendant of early Colonial stock. His great ancestor, Thomas Chase, came to America from Hundred Parish, Chesham, England, in 1636. There are seven generations from Thomas Chase to Emory A. Chase.  He received his early formal education in the Hensonville school, finishing his studies at Fort Edward Collegiate Institute, where he was a student in the early seventies of the last century.  From 1871 to 1877 he taught in the village schools of Greene County, working during the summer months on his father’s farm and at the carpenter’s trade, while keeping up his interest in study with a view to the practice of law.  On March 27, 1877, he entered the law office of King and Hallock, of Catskill, New York, where he devoted himself to legal study for three years, being admitted to the bar on May 6, 1880. Prior to his admission he had been a law clerk in the law firm of Hallock and Jennings, the successors of King and Hallock, and on July 4, 1882, he was admitted as partner under the firm name Hallock, Jennings and Chase. Mr. Hallock retired on September 22, 1890, and the firm became Jennings and Chase and so continued until December 1, 1896, when it was dissolved upon the elevation of Mr. Chase to the Supreme Court.  This was not, however, the first public honor that was tendered to Mr. Chase. While he was a Republican from childhood, he was personally popular without regard to party lines, and service was thrust upon him solely upon the basis of his worth to the community. From 1882 to 1896 he was elected to and served as a member of the Board of Education of Catskill, of which board he was president for five years. He served for some time as Corporation Counsel of Catskill. He was also vice-president of the Tanners National Bank, of Catskill, and first vice-president of the Catskill Savings Bank.

Continuously from 1896, most of the way through two fourteen-year terms, Emory Albert Chase served on the bench of the Supreme Court of New York State, Third District, and from 1901 to 1906 was also judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.  After January 9, 1906, he was judge of the Court of Appeals.  At first he was assigned to the Appeals bench by the Governor. Then, in November, 1920, he was duly elected to that court, continuing on this assignment for the rest of his life. In his quarter of a century on the bench, including fifteen years with the Court of Appeals, Judge Chase revealed striking qualities of fairness and impartiality, so essential to one performing a judicial function, and his dignity and pose were qualities that brought him to affection of many. For further interpretations and appraisal, there is no better source than the “Memorial” adopted by the Court of Appeals, October 3, 1931, which contains the illuminating paragraphs:

Necessarily the bar and the public their judgment of an appellate judge largely upon his written opinions. These are almost the only available test by which they can measure his judicial ability. Judge Chase’s reputation might well rest upon its test. His opinions, spread through fifty-four volumes of Appellate Division Reports and through forty-eight volumes of the New York Court of Appeals Reports, are the well expressed views of a learned and able judge. They are written in a plain and simple style, reinforced by carefully selected citations, never made dangerous or confusing by undesirable illustrations or intelligent laymen, may indeed understand them and appreciate the line of reasoning which led to the final conclusion, even though disagreeing with that conclusion. They will be a lasting monument to the judge who wrote them.

But the truth is that a judge’s opinions are a very incomplete test and measure of this ability and usefulness. They indeed reveal in some degree the manner in which his mind works, his capacity for logical and forceful reasoning and expression, his industry in searching authorities and, perhaps, his judicial tendencies on certain classes of questions where men’s minds naturally take different directions. But they give no adequate conception of the work which a judge does and of the ability which he may display in preparing for the carrying on the consideration and consultation room, unseen and unappreciated by any except associates. It is fundamental. No grace of expression or brilliancy of reasoning in an opinion can atone for error of injustice which, through lack of thorough examination and consultation, may have entered into the decision.

In this essential and basic work no one excelled Judge Chase. He was indefatigable in his labor. He listened with attention and unusual power of assimilation to the oral argument. No volume of record and no length of brief ever deterred him from an examination of every fact and principle of law which seemed to be involved in the decision of an appeal.  He came into the consultation with genial and tolerant personality but with convictions which he was thoroughly prepared to maintain to the end, unless convinced of error.  His reports and discussions were full, accurate and always helpful. As a case tr4aveled around the consultation table from judge to judge, it never frightened or drove him from his position that one judge, or three, or even six, differed from him. If that interchange of views disclosed to his mind some new aspect of a case, which had escaped him, and which fairly overthrew the view which he had entertained, he was never ashamed to yield.  But if the correctness of his conclusions, in his opinion, remained unimpaired, he had the courage to stand by them, and the reports are ample evidence of his steadfastness and of his courage to dissent from a decision which seemed to him wrong.  Thus he possessed the ability to present in virile fashion his own views and yet keep his mind open to the merits of a differing one which might be urged by some colleague. His response to the demands and test which measure the usefulness and worth of an appellate judge was ideal.

Such were some of the qualities by which Judge Chase ever held the deep respect and affectionate regard of those who worked with him so constantly and knew him so intimately. His was no character whose qualities seemed to assume fairer proportions or greater merits in proportion as the distance increased from which on contemplated them.  

On June 30, 1885, Judge Emory Albert Chase married Mary Elizabeth Churchill, of Prattsville, New York, who survived him, with a daughter, Jessie Churchill, who married James Lewis Malcolm, and attorney of Catskill, New York, now deceased, and a son, Albert Woodworth Chase of Catskill.

Upon the death of Judge Chase on June 25, 1921, the press, members of the bench and bar, and notables in all walks of life, vied in paying tributes to his character and career.  From the “Memorial of the Court of Appeals,” an extended quotation has been made. Every organization---civic, business, professional and social---recorded their encomiums. The final word was spoken by a cotemporary, the Rev. Christopher G. Hazard, D. D., who began the funeral address: 

We have looked upon Judge Chase and loved him. He was an American of the highest type. He did justly, loved kindness, and walked humbly with his God as a product of his Christian faith. Placed in high office by the confidence of the people, he both magnified his office and filled it with ability, multiplying his public services with ever widening influence and ability.  In his private life he endeared himself to many by his unselfish consideration, patient attention, and willing consecration of his great knowledge and rare powers to the uses of friendship. He had the magnetism of resources and good will, and thus attracted to himself a host that he never sent empty away.  Wise in counsel, adequate in difficulty, accurate in estimations, particularly exact in decisions, fearless in convictions; more than professionally just, conscientiously just in settlements, he encouraged truth and righteousness; while falsity was exposed in his presence, duplicity rebuked, dishonor abashed, meanness ashamed. In him was a combination of dignity and humility, of simplicity and wisdom, of strength and sweetness, seldom found in men.  Intellectual power, with its zeal for truth, actuality, reality, rarely combines with tenderness of heart, with constancy of patient kindness amid its weighty cares, but here was an interested and helpful friend for every corner.

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