Judge D. Vincent Cerrito was not one to mess around, those who knew him said Monday. That was something that local attorney James Bendall learned quickly.
Back in 1971, Cerrito directed Bendall’s firm to send an attorney to court so a case the firm was handling could proceed. Anyone would do, even someone like Bendall, three days out of law school.
“I think he always took pleasure in that: ‘I threw this kid into the deep end of the pool and he swam.’ ” Bendall said Monday of the man he got to know well over the years.
“He was eminently fair,” Bendall said. “He was concerned for both the public and for the attorneys who practiced in his court.”
Cerrito, who served six years as Schenectady County district attorney and 18 as a state Supreme Court justice, died Sunday at the age of 98.
Those who knew him recalled a man who was tough, but fair. He was also skillful at bringing sides together and a stickler for decorum.
There were stories he sent a prospective juror home whom he believed wasn’t dressed properly. Hats and gum were definitely out.
A graduate of Union College and Albany Law School, Cerrito served as district attorney from 1961 until 1967. That year he was elected to the Supreme Court bench, serving there until his retirement in 1985. He also served in the Army from 1943 to 1946.
Even in retirement, he continued to hear mediation and arbitration cases until 2004.
“Sometimes an ex-prosecutor carries that forward,” Cerrito’s long-time law clerk J. David Burke recalled. “He didn’t. He was never judgmental. He would hear everybody out.”
But it was his ability to bring people together to settle their differences that stood out, something Cerrito devoted untold hours to, Burke said.
Cerrito also saw the individuals. The current holder of the district attorney post, Robert Carney, recalled one time when he was in private practice, getting called back to Cerrito’s office.
The purpose, Carney soon learned, was Cerrito had been asked to recommend an attorney for a job. Carney replied he was happy where he was.
“Ultimately, he was a very kind man,” Carney said. “He certainly had a long and fruitful life.”
Cerrito, a Niskayuna resident, is survived by his wife, two children and two grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Rossi & Ditoro Funeral Home, then at St. John the Evangelist Church for Mass at 11 a.m. Calling hours are this evening at the funeral home from 4 to 8 p.m.
Family have said memorial contributions may be made to Community Hospice of Schenectady, 1411 Union St., Schenectady, NY 12308 or a charity of one’s choice.