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Breitel, Charles

BREITEL, CHARLES

BREITEL, CHARLES (1908–1991), U.S. judge. A graduate of the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School, Breitel served as a member of the Special Rackets Investigation from 1934 to 1937 and as assistant and then chief of the indictment bureau of the district attorney of New York County through 1941. In that position he was one of a group of young, aggressive prosecutors recruited by Thomas E. Dewey to go after a number of notorious racketeers throughout the 1930s. Dewey became governor of New York and Breitel served as his counsel from 1943 to 1950. During this period Dewey was twice the Republican candidate for president of the United States.

When Dewey named Breitel a judge in 1950, he said he had "the finest legal mind in the state." Breitel remained on the bench throughout the rest of his career, becoming chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, the highest in the state, in 1973. He served in that position until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1978.

During his tenure on the Appeals Court, he wrote the opinion upholding the state's liberalized abortion law of 1970. He also wrote an opinion saying that poor people seeking a divorce did not have the right to be represented by a lawyer paid from public funds. Another opinion, affirmed by the United States Supreme Court, upheld the landmark designation for Grand Central Terminal. Long before he joined the Court of Appeals, Breitel's jurisprudential philosophy was well known. In a 1965 lecture that was widely quoted, he said: "The power of the courts is great indeed but it is not a power to be confused with evangelic illusions of legislative or political primacy. If this is true, then self-restraint by the courts in lawmaking must be their greatest contribution to the democratic society."

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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