Obituary — ‘A fine man and a wonderful judge’

Long Beach's Jack Mackston, longtime judge who went after slumlords, dies at 90


Jack Mackston, a former City Court and Nassau County Criminal Court judge who earned a reputation for being tough on slumlords during the tumultuous 1970s in Long Beach — and who made headlines when he sentenced Joey Buttafuoco to jail for the statutory rape of Amy Fisher in 1993 — died on Aug. 4, at age 90.

Mackston, a longtime Long Beach resident, was described as a towering figure in the community who earned the respect of Republicans and Democrats alike, and was known for being firm but fair in the courtroom. He died peacefully in his home in the Canals, surrounded by his family.

Hundreds turned out for his funeral service on Monday at Gutterman’s in Rockville Centre. Mackston, who would have turned 91 on Aug. 22, is survived by his wife of 64 years, Sandra; four children, Jeff, Bobby, Susan Mackston-Solomon and Alisa Mackston-Hart; 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“He lived and breathed Long Beach,” said Mackston-Solomon. “He was the most special person I’ve ever known. He’s from the old school, and he was so humble — he was very honest.”

Born in New York City in 1927, Mackston grew up in the Bronx and attended Admiral Farragut Academy in Toms River, N.J. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy’s flight program in 1944, and held the Navy’s boxing middleweight title.

“His mother took him to pro bouts when he was thinking about being a boxer, and the blood would fly off the fighters’ faces,” said his son Bobby. “He said, ‘I think I’ll go to college instead.’”

Mackston attended Tufts University and New York University’s School of Law. An avid sailor, he moved to Long Beach in 1953, where he opened a law practice and he and Sandra were married two years later. The couple built a home on Curly Street in 1960, where they raised their children and Mackston kept his sailboat docked in the Bob Jones Canal.

“He loved the water,” Bobby said. “He’s a sailor, and loved being on the ocean. He had small sailboats and loved to sail, and that’s what we’d do whenever we had a chance.”

Fighting to turn the city around

Long Beach hit hard economic times in the 1960s and ’70s, when the state began placing mental patients in empty resort hotels and dubious building fires — many believed to have been started by landlords looking for insurance payouts — were common.

“There were many slums and illegal housing,” recalled Long Beach Republican Committee Chairman Jim Moriarty, who was 19 when he worked on Mack-ston’s first campaign for City Court judge in 1972. “We had buildings that were uninhabitable. These guys were profiting off the misery of people who had no other places to live. Mackston set a tone not to tolerate these kinds of landlords.”

“There was a lot of corruption, and his biggest pet peeve was slumlords,” Bobby Mackston added, “and he went after all of them.”

As an attorney, Mackston, a Republican, earned a reputation for his legal expertise, and was also known for his good looks, athletic build and friendly demeanor.

“People were disgusted with politics in City Hall and the state of the community, and were electing new faces,” Moriarty said. “Mackston looked at the law as something that could be good for people.”

After the Republicans swept a City Council race for the first time ever in 1971, Mackston was appointed an acting City Court judge in 1972. When Judge George Tepper died that year, Mackston became a full-time judge, and he was elected that November to serve the remainder of Tepper’s term, overwhelmingly defeating his opponent, Irving Faber.

According to a 1972 article in The New York Times about the race, Mackston campaigned under the slogan “He Means Business,” and “startled” Long Beach by imposing a jail sentence on one of its most notorious slumlords while serving as acting judge.

A ‘fair’ judge

Moriarty and others said that Mackston was known for being fair and treating people, including those who appeared before him, with respect.

“He ran the most incredible courts,” said Long Beach historian Roberta Fiore. “He was straight as a stick. He was honest. He had a great reputation in town, and there was never any patronage.”

“If there was some stupid kid [in court], he was very fair,” Bobby said. “But if you were someone who was evil in your heart, he was the wrong guy to be in front of. Some of my friends would tell me stories about going in front of him, and he wouldn’t let their fathers pay the fine. He liked to make sure kids took responsibility for their actions.”

Mackston step-ped down as City Court judge in 1988, after he had been elected County Court judge at age 58.

“Jack was an excellent judge and an even better man,” said former City Court Judge Roy Tepper.

“He was the gold standard for being what a judge should be,” added current City Court Judge Frank Dekranis. “He was a fine man and a wonderful judge, and I’ve learned a lot from him — he was a mentor and a friend.”

A high-profile case

One of Mackston’s most high-profile cases came in 1993, when the 37-year-old Buttafuoco, who began an affair with Fisher when she was 16, was charged with statutory rape. Fisher shot Buttafuoco’s wife, Mary Jo, in the head on the steps of the family’s Massapequa home.

Mackston sentenced Buttafuoco to six months in jail — the maximum penalty allowed under an agreement — after Buttafuoco pleaded guilty to third-degree rape, according to The New York Times.

“He oversaw some high-profile cases, including Buttafuoco and another one against a pedophile bus driver,” his son Bobby said. “He had no tolerance for dishonesty and corruption — he was a no-nonsense kind of guy.”

Dedicated to the community

After he retired in 1998, Mackston continued sailing, and remained involved in the community up until his death, particularly with Shake-A-Leg, a Miami-based nonprofit organization that hosts sailing outings for children and adults with disabilities.

He also advised the Beach to Bay Civic Association when the group filed a lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2016 as part of its fight to restore medical services to the barrier island after Hurricane Sandy heavily damaged the Long Beach Medical Center. “Jack felt that we, the residents, have been put in danger when real emergencies occurred,” said Beach to Bay President Barbara Bernardino.

Alisa Mackston-Hart said that her father was proud to attend a ceremony after she was appointed a criminal court judge in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2010.

“I was so afraid that I was going to cry — and my dad is a strong, tough hero of a guy, not a guy who would cry a lot,” she recounted. “But this was a moment where he was almost sobbing, and then I said there was no way I could cry now. He was proud that I was following in his footsteps. I always wanted to be like him.”