Being a judge is third career for Justice Schack
Spotlight on our judiciary
If Hon. Arthur Schack, a New York State Supreme Court justice, is ever asked to speak at a career day at a high school, he’ll have three unique careers to tell the students about.
There is his job as a judge, of course. Schack presides over hundreds of civil cases each year, involving everything from home foreclosures and medical malpractices to disputes between neighbors over parking spaces in driveways. In one of his more bizarre cases, a plaintiff tried to sue President Barack Obama, U.S. Senator John McCain, House Speaker John Boehner and dozens of other national figures, charging them with election fraud.
Schack threw the case out. In his 18-page decision, Schack evoked Hollywood in his criticism of the plaintiff. “If the complaint in this action was a movie script, it would be entitled ‘The Manchurian Candidate Meets the DaVinci Code,’” he wrote.
But prior to becoming a judge, Schack had other professional lives. He was a lawyer for the Major League Baseball Players Association for 16 years. And before that, he was a teacher at Bay Ridge High School, now called the High School of Telecommunications and Technology.
During a recent interview with the Brooklyn Eagle in his chambers on the 10th floor of the Supreme Court building at 360 Adams St., Schack spoke about his life and his journey to the bench.
His chambers are filled with reminders of both his past and present careers, as well as some personal touches. A Louisville Slugger sits on a table next to his desk. Schack’s name is engraved on the baseball bat. “It was a gift for my 70th birthday,” he told the Eagle.
Behind his desk is a wall of bookshelves containing dozens of legal volumes. The shelves also hold family photos, pictures of family pets and two adorable Teddy Bears wearing judges’ robes.
Schack was born and raised in Bensonhurst. He attended P.S. 205, Seth Low Junior High School and Stuyvesant High School. He went to Brooklyn College and graduated with a degree in history. He earned a master’s degree in history from Indiana University.
He put his history degrees to good use by teaching at Bay Ridge High School, where he also became active in the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). He served as the school’s UFT chapter chairman for several years.
The mid-1970s were tough times for teachers and other city employees. New York was deep in debt and layoffs became a way of life. Schack, with an eye toward the future, decided to go to New York Law School.
“Teachers’ salaries were frozen. I wanted to make money. I got out of teaching,” he said.
It was during his teaching days that he met his wife Dilia through the UFT. He was a chapter leader and she was a representative for School District 15. In October, the Schacks will celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary. They have two children and a granddaughter.
Dilia Schack is well known as a highly respected political leader. She is the Democratic District Leader of the 46th Assembly District (Bay Ridge-Coney Island).
Why did Schack decide to ditch teaching and go into law? “It’s still an area of helping people, doing for people, serving society,” he said. He still taught for a couple of years after he earned his law degree in 1980.
He got a job as a lawyer for the Major League Baseball Players Association, the players’ union, in 1982. He dealt with issues like salary arbitration and free agency. He interacted with ball players and their agents.
And yes, friends were constantly hitting him up for World Series tickets.
Schack is modest about his beginnings at the union.
“I got the job because they were looking for someone with a union background,” he said. “And they were looking for someone who had walked a picket line, which I had.”
Despite their millions, ballplayers “are just like any other group of people,” he said. Some are nice guys, others are problematic. He mentioned Bernie Williams, Don Baylor, Dave Winfield, David Cone and Tom Glavine as being particularly nice guys.
Schack, who lives in Bay Ridge, was also involved in politics and community service for many years. He served on Community Board 10 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights) from 1983 to 1998. He was the board’s chairman for three years. He was also a member of the Stars and Stripes Democratic Club.
He put politics behind him forever in 1998 when he ran for civil court judge and won. Judges are not permitted to belong to political clubs.
As a civil court judge, he also presided over criminal cases. “The court system moved you around,” he said.
In 2003, he became a New York State Supreme Court justice.
Over the years, he has presided over more than 400 trials and has ruled on nearly 10,000 motions.
His role as a Supreme Court justice is to “provide a level playing field for all of the sides to present their case,” he said.
Schack said he tries, when it’s possible, to urge two disputing parties to settle the case before it reaches trial. “It costs a lot of money to go to trial,” he said.
He is assisted by a staff led by his law clerk, Ronald Bratt, and his secretary Barbara Guida.
The wide variety of cases Schack handles includes mental competency hearings, slip and fall cases, auto accidents and malpractice. Schack and Bratt explained to the Eagle that malpractice cases can involve more than just medical malpractice. “Lawyers can commit malpractice. Architects can commit malpractice. Accountants,” Schack said.
The plaques on the walls of his chambers include a laminated New York Times story, which profiled him. Another story, from the New York Law Journal, is also on the wall, along with court reporter drawings of him from his courtroom.
His reputation as a scholar was enhanced somewhat when he joined the Kings County American Inns of Court several years ago. A colleague praised Schack’s depth of knowledge.
“When we would have quizzes on the law and were asked, for instance, to name three serving members of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1888, even the brightest Inn members often became puzzled,” the colleague said. “At that point, invariably everyone would turn to Justice Schack, who would smile knowingly and come up with the correct answer!”
It is not surprising, then, that Schack has been elected president of the Kings County Inn of Court.
The American Inns are, in many ways, descended from the Ancient Inn of Court in London. “But,” Schack quickly pointed out, “we don’t wear wigs!”
While Schack is no longer involved in politics, he still devotes time to organizations and causes he believes in. He is very involved in the Boy Scouts of America. He was a scout leader at Troop 20, which meets at the New Utrecht Reform Church on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst. He is on the executive committee of the Brooklyn Council of the Greater NY Council of the Boy Scouts.
Schack is also a member of the Friends of Historic New Utrecht, an organization that works to promote the history of New Utrecht Reformed Church and the surrounding community. The church was founded in 1677. His wife Dilia is a member of the church.