Brooklyn judicial family to get good will boost by state legislature

January 12, 2015 By Charisma L. Troiano, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Gov. Andrew Cuomo. AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed into law a pension benefit that will increase the amount a widow of a Brooklyn judge will receive following her husband’s battle with cancer.

Assembly and Senate bills A4986/S3760 will allow the New York government employees’ retirement system to — on a one-time basis — “posthumously establish a service retirement [specifically] for Gustin L. Reichbach,” granting the family of the deceased judge to receive a retirement benefit that would have otherwise been unavailable. 

Reichbach, a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge, suffered from pancreatic cancer, succumbing to the disease in 2012. He is famously known for a May 2012 New York Times op-ed in which he admitted to using marijuana to ease the symptoms of his cancer and advocated for the drug’s legality. 

Nine days before his death, Reichbach applied for retirement; the New York system for government employees requires 15-days’ notice of retirement before a family member can inherit retirement and pension benefits. Due to the timing of her husband’s death, Reichbach’s widow, Ellen Meyers, was ineligible for the late judge’s retirement benefits. 

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Looking for a way to provide for the Reichbach family, while still remaining within the parameters of legislative code, Brooklyn pols championed a bill proposal that would grant Reichbach a specific “service retirement” that would credit extra time for Reichbach’s “service as a judge with the United Nations administration mission in Kosovo.”  

The September 2003 through February 2004 period left New York to preside over a war-crimes court in Kosovo as a part of a United Nations tribunal to try Kosovar Albanians for crimes against the Serbians.  

Reichbach’s family noted that the judge would have likely applied for retirement sooner, but he was convinced that he would fight to stay alive and beat the disease.

“Gus, as he got sicker and sicker, got more concerned about leaving me without his full pension,” Meyers told Capital New York in July regarding her husband’s desire to file for retirement but conviction to keep living.

The now-former Assemblymember Joan Millman (D-Brooklyn), a sponsor of the legislation, who worked with Meyers, noted that “people who are dying, I think it’s just human nature, they always think they’ll fight it and last a little longer.”  

The bill, which will still have to be approved by the Comptroller’s Office, is specific only to Reichbach and provides a one-time payment of $115,000 estimated to be received in March 2015.

“It’s only him,” Millman said. “I wouldn’t think that people should use this for everyone else.” 

In order to achieve this unusual benefit, a legislative comment stipulates a new filing date for Reichbach’s retirement application.
“This bill would deem the service retirement application filed by Gustin L. Reichbach, a justice of  the  Supreme  Court, to have taken affect one day before his date of death,” the legislature added in a fiscal note.
Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) was the bill’s sponsor in the senate.

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