NISKAYUNA — A longtime pillar of the Schenectady County legal community has passed, leaving fond memories for those who appeared before him, served with him and supervised him in his many judicial roles.
Vincent J. Reilly Jr. died Sunday at age 77. He was first elected as a Niskayuna Town Court justice in 1977 and retired in 2017 as a state Supreme Court justice, then continued as a judicial hearing officer in retirement.
The Brooklyn native and longtime Niskayuna resident was the oldest of six children; he and his wife of 53 years, Linda, were the parents of six children of their own.
His longtime colleague and friend and sometimes supervisor, Judge Vito Caruso, who also grew up in a large family, said Thursday that one of his earliest memories of Reilly was in Town Court. As Caruso stood before the bench, an infant winged a glass bottle of formula at them, and it shattered all over the front of the bench.
“Neither one of us flinched,” Caruso said. “We’d both been there and done that.
“That was one of my first experiences with him, as a young attorney and he as a young town justice.”
The two became friends and both went on to serve as Supreme Court justices. As administrative judge first for the district and later for all of the state outside New York City, Caruso called on Reilly for advice and feedback.
“Vince was the type of person and and judge I could rely on as a sounding board for the problems I had to deal with,” Caruso said.
This built the professional bonds. The personal friendship was shared interests outside the court — family, summer homes, life.
“He was the consummate renaissance man, he had all of it,” Caruso said. “The law was very important to him but his family was more important.”
Caruso said Reilly beat cancer repeatedly, and retired when he was told he was terminally ill. Then he proved that prognosis wrong, too, Caruso said and became a judicial hearing officer, a role open to retired judges.
“It’s hard to talk about him,” he added.
“He fought so hard to live,” said veteran attorney Cristine Cioffi, who represented speeders before Reilly in Town Court and appeared before him later in Family Court as a court-appointed guardian for children.
Cioffi said Reilly “wore his heart on his sleeve” with his own children, cheering at their soccer games and crying at their weddings.
But not on the bench.
“As a judge he was very stoic and by that I mean he did not let any reaction or emotion cross his face,” she said. “You could never quite tell what he was thinking. But he listened to every word and was very compassionate and fair.”
One case stands out in her mind, that of two siblings for whom Cioffi was guardian. Their family situation came before Reilly repeatedly for years until they were finally placed in an adoptive home.
At a final appearance, Reilly called her to the bench and spoke to her privately:
“Would you just make sure that they have winter coats and let me know if they need anything?”
“This man had a heart of gold,” Cioffi said Thursday. “We’re going to miss him.”
Schenectady County Supreme Court Judge Mark Powers saw similar empathy for adults in Reilly’s time on the bench.
“He was exemplary in the Drug Court,” Powers said. “He had a real compassion.”
He, like Caruso, noted Reilly’s desire to retain a judicial role even in retirement.
“He loved what he did,” Powers said.
Caruso and Powers also noted Reilly’s off-hours work through the state Bar Association to assist lawyers struggling with drug and alcohol abuse.
“He did it from his heart and he did it without any accolades or desire for any accolades,” Caruso said.
Caruso and much of the Schenectady County judicial community will join family and friends to pay their respects to Judge Reilly on Friday afternoon at the Daly Funeral Home.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Kateri Tekawitha on Rosa Road.