February 5, 2013
Judge given inaugural award
Supreme Court Justices Association honors Phillip Rumsey
State Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey was honored by his peers for leadership and dedication to his profession at a Jan. 26 ceremony.
Rumsey was awarded the inaugural Justice Martin Evans Award for Judicial Excellence and Leadership by the Association of Supreme Court Justices of the State of New York.
Rumsey proved himself thoughtful, steady and hardworking while serving as the association’s president during a challenging period, said Justice Angela Mazzarelli, the chairperson of the awards committee.
His tenure as association president in 2011 and a member of the executive committee in 2012 were especially difficult because the association was seeking a state constitutional amendment to increase judges’ mandatory retirement age from 70 to 80 and pay raises for justices, said Rumsey, a Homer resident.
“I think the effort that I put in was probably noticed,” he said.
A joint resolution to raise the judges’ mandatory retirement age passed the state Senate and Assembly in 2011, but must be passed again by the newly elected legislature and then go out for a statewide public referendum, before the constitutional amendment is approved, he said.
A pay raise of 27 percent for judges that will take place over three years took effect in April 2012. It was the first raise for state judges in 13 years, said Rumsey, a Cortland High School graduate.
“He led the organization with great insight,” said Mazzarelli. “He was an excellent leader.”
Since 2008, Rumsey has also served on the Pattern Jury Instructions Committee, a group that annually edit volumes judges consult when developing instructions to juries before they go into deliberations.
Mazzarelli worked with Rumsey on the committee and called him, “prepared,” “insightful” and “in-tuned.”
“He’s known for his scholarship,” she said.
Rumsey was surprised to be the first honoree of the award that memorializes Justice Martin Evans, who died in 2011 after a 26-year career as a Supreme Court justice and earning a Bronze Star during his military service in World War II.
“I try to be humble but that was probably the most humbling moment I had in quite a while, “ Rumsey said.
Evans had served with Rumsey on the jury instruction committee, and Rumsey remembered him as a bright and gracious person.
Rumsey practiced law for 18 years in Cortland County before being elected to the Sixth Judicial District in 1993. He is currently serving his second 14-year term.
Becoming a judge was never a goal, Rumsey said, but he focused on improving as a lawyer and seized the opportunity when it arose after Justice Paul Yesawich’s retirement.
“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful career,” Rumsey said.
“From a selfish point of view, what’s been rewarding is to learn and shape actually many areas of law as a judge,” Rumsey said, noting that a lawyer is only able to deal with the areas of law that come into his or her office.
Rumsey has presided not only over medical malpractice lawsuits and contract disputes, but over cases involving hydrofracking and wind farms.
Rumsey upheld an August 2011 zoning law amendment that bans gas drilling in Dryden, a decision that is being appealed by Norse Energy Corp.
In September, Rumsey ruled that Cortland County had not delayed the approval process for 44 492-foot-tall wind turbines that TCI Renewables, a United Kingdom-based company, hopes to build in Cortlandville, Homer, Solon and Truxton.
One of the things Rumsey said he has enjoyed most is presiding over naturalization ceremonies.
“It’s just so rewarding,” he said, noting that new citizens understand how precious a right it is to be judged by a jury of their peers publicly, instead of by a secret court, and say that they look forward to serving on a jury.
Rumsey will preside over a ceremony Friday at 11 a.m.
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