Judge Paul Feinman, a Merrick native, John F. Kennedy High School graduate and the first openly gay member of the state’s highest court, died on March 31 of a blood disorder. He was 61.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated Feinman to the Court of Appeals in 2017, and he was confirmed by the Senate in June of that year. “It is a tremendous honor to be nominated to the Court of Appeals,” Feinman said in a statement at the time.
After his death was announced, there was an outpouring of condolences from state officials and Feinman’s colleagues in the legal profession.
“Judge Feinman was a bright, experienced and knowledgeable jurist who made an extraordinary impact on the Court of Appeals and the law of our state,” New York’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, wrote in a lengthy statement. “He was also a kind and gentle man who was loved by many,. Judge Feinman served with excellence at every level of our judiciary, and his broad experience, knowledge and wisdom earned him the respect and warm personal regard of his judicial colleagues. Judge Feinman was a meticulous, disciplined and humble jurist who weighed the legal interests at stake in each case with great integrity in order to arrive at the correct and just result.”
“It’s often said that law reflects the morals of society, and Judge Feinman reflected the very best of New York,” Cuomo wrote in a statement. “The first openly gay person to serve on the Court of Appeals, he was a lifelong champion of fairness, progress, equality and justice — the very cornerstones of our state’s history and our country’s democracy. And just as importantly, he was a mentor, friend and role model to countless LGBTQ attorneys, helping to shepherd us out of an era where being openly LGBTQ could mean disbarment and into an era where government embodies the public it serves. It was my honor to appoint him to the bench.”
“I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Justice Paul Feinman,” state Attorney General Letitia James wrote on Twitter. “The first LGBTQ Court of Appeals Judge in New York, Justice Feinman was a trailblazer, and his legacy and inspiration to New Yorkers will live on.”
Feinman was president of the International Association of LGBT Judges from 2008 to 2011, a former president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Bar Association of Greater New York and a member of the National LGBT Bar Association.
The LGBT Bar Association of New York wrote in a statement, “We are deeply saddened by the passing this morning of our dear friend, Judge Paul Feinman. As the first openly gay judge on New York’s highest court, he broke down barriers and inspired LGBTQ lawyers and students.”
Feinman helped “the next generation of LGBTQ+ lawyers,” the association wrote, by serving on its Judicial Selection Committee, which helps mentor law students.
He was also a member of the Richard C. Failla LGBT Commission, which is dedicated to promoting equal participation by and access to the courts to all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender.
On Twitter, the commission wrote that its members were “absolutely devastated and heartbroken” about Feinman’s death. “We will be creating an annual award named after him to remember his trailblazing legacy for the LGBTQ community,” it wrote.
Feinman received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1981 and a law degree from University of Minnesota Law School in 1985. He began his legal career at the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, Criminal Appeals Bureau, in 1985, and from 1987 to 1989 he was a senior staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society, Criminal Defense Division, in Manhattan, according to Cuomo’s office. From 1989 to 1996 he was a principal law clerk to Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli.
Feinman was a Civil Court judge, first elected in 1996 and re-elected in 2006. He was elected to the Supreme Court in 2007 and appointed associate justice of the Appellate Division by Cuomo in 2012, after serving as an acting Supreme Court justice from 2004 to 2007.
On the LGBT Bar Association of New York’s website, www.lqbtbarny.org, a video was shared that features an interview with Feinman created for the organization’s 40th anniversary.
“My advice always is to pursue what makes you alive, on fire, and that you do with passion,” Feinman said in the video, “because that passion translates.”