Wachtler, Sol

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WACHTLER, SOL (1930– ), U.S. jurist, chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and received his B.A. cum laude and his law degree from Washington and Lee universities. He was in private law practice in Jamaica, Long Island, until his appointment as a justice of the New York Supreme Court in 1968; later that year he was elected to a full term in the court. In 1972 he was elected to the New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, and in January 1985 Governor Cuomo appointed him chief judge of the State of New York and the Court of Appeals. In this position he supervised a system that included some three thousand judges and about twelve thousand non-judicial personnel.

As chief judge of the Court of Appeals, Wachtler said that he set for himself two chief missions: to achieve collegiality for the court, so that it may speak with "one voice" and win for itself again the reputation it enjoyed under the leadership of Benjamin N. *Cardozo; and to streamline and modernize the administration of the state's judicial system.

In 1992 Wachtler's career came to a grinding halt when he was arrested by the fbi for stalking and harassing the woman with whom he had been having an affair for several years. In 1993 he was indicted on five counts of extortion, mailing threats, and lying to a government agency. He pleaded guilty to harassment and was sentenced to 11 months in a medium-security federal prison, which followed a year of home confinement. This harrowing experience is chronicled in his book After the Madness: A Judge's Own Prison Memoir (1997).

His own personal demons notwithstanding, in his capacity as a jurist Wachtler initiated reforms in a number of controversial areas. For example, he declared it unconstitutional that a man could rape his wife and go unpunished; he extended the human rights law to prohibit discrimination against obese people; he provided women with more power to fight gender bias; and he endorsed gay rights.

Wachtler went on to teach law at the Law School at Touro College in Huntington, New York. In 2000 he received the President's Award of the New York State Mental Health Association for the work he did on behalf of the mentally ill. Wachtler co-authored the novel Blood Brothers (2003) with David Gould, a former assistant district attorney.


J. Caher, King of the Mountain: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of Chief Judge Sol Wachtler (1998).

[Milton Ridvas Konvitz /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]