Stewart F. Hancock, Jr., a former Syracuse lawyer who served for eight years on the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, died Feb. 11. He was 91.
Judge Hancock started his legal career at Hancock Estabrook, LLP, the Syracuse law firm founded by his grandfather, Theodore E. Hancock. Judge Hancock served for 15 years on the state Supreme Court and its Appellate Division before Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1986 appointed him to the Court of Appeals, in Albany.
Following his service on the bench, Judge Hancock returned to private practice at Hancock Estabrook, LLP and later in Cazenovia, most recently at Goris & O’Sullivan, primarily in appellate work and arbitration. He also took on several pro bono criminal defense appellate matters, including assignments from Hiscock Legal Aid Society of Syracuse where he was a Director and volunteer throughout his career. Judge Hancock became an ardent opponent of New York’s death penalty, arguing as an amicus curiae advocate in opposition to the death penalty before the Court of Appeals. His office in Cazenovia was a 5-minute walk from his Carpenter Street home. (Or a slightly longer cross country ski in a blizzard.)
Judge Hancock took great pride in doing what he believed was fair. One of his favorite cases involved his 1990 dissent in the Court of Appeals’ decision to let the San Diego Yacht Club keep the America's Cup. New Zealand contended the United States crew cheated by using a catamaran instead of a single-hull sailboat. Hancock, a frequent sailor, wrote that rules of fair play should have given the cup to New Zealand.
After he left the Court of Appeals, Judge Hancock taught as a Distinguished Visiting Professor and Jurist in Residence at the Syracuse University College of Law.
Judge Hancock served as the first Oneida Nation Court Chief Judge, having administrative supervision over the court and serving first as the Chief Trial Judge, and then Chief Appellate Judge since 1997.
A Republican, Stewart served as Corporation Counsel for the City of Syracuse from 1962 to 1963 and as Onondaga County Republican Committee chairman in 1964. In 1966 he was the GOP nominee for the 33rd District of Congress, losing to Democrat James M. Hanley.
Stewart, an avid golfer, skier and tennis player, kept active into his 90s. Around the office, he occasionally resorted to his signature move to clear his mind: he’d do a headstand.
He graduated from Deerfield Academy and attended Wesleyan University. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Stewart was a veteran of World War II and the Korean Conflict.
He received his law degree from Cornell Law School in 1950. He was a member of the New York State Bar Association and the Onondaga County Bar Association. In 2000, Judge Hancock was the New York State Bar Association Gold Medal recipient, in recognition of lifetime achievement.
He was a member of the Century Club of Syracuse, the Cazenovia Club, and the Cazenovia Golf Club. He also was a choir member at the First Presbyterian church of Cazenovia.
He was born in Syracuse, the son of Marion McLennan Hancock and Stewart F. Hancock, a prominent lawyer who became known as "Mr. Syracuse." His maternal grandfather, Peter B. McLennan, was presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in the early 1900s.
His paternal grandfather, Theodore E. Hancock, was state attorney general. His uncle, Clarence E. Hancock, was a congressman for whom the city's airport is named.
Judge Hancock is survived by his wife, Ruth Pass Hancock. He was predeceased by his son, Stewart F. Hancock III. Judge Hancock’s other survivors are: the children of Stewart F. Hancock III (Kimberly), Kolbe (Andrew), Annie, Torrey, Stewart IV, and Mary; son, R. James Hancock (Ellen), and their children James (Kristen) and Liz; daughter, Marion Hancock Fish (Michael), and their children Michael, Jeffrey and Ruth; son, Christopher P. Hancock (Imelda), and their children Christopher and Benjamin; son, Nathaniel P. Hancock (Lisa), and their son Richard; and son, Jonathan R. Hancock.
A memorial service will be held 11:30 a.m. Friday, March 7th, at Park Central Presbyterian Church.
Friends may call 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 6th,
at the church, 504 E. Fayette St., Syracuse.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Central New York Community Foundation, Inc., 431 E. Fayette St., Suite 100, Syracuse, NY 13202, or to the Hiscock Legal Aid Society, 351 S. Warren St., Syracuse, NY 13202.
Arrangements are being handled by Fairchild & Meech DeWitt Chapel.
To express condolences to the family please go to www.fairchildmeech.com