The Onondaga County Bar Association was incorporated on June 12, 1875, with the following objectives:
To maintain the honor and dignity of the profession of law, to cultivate social discourse among its members, to increase its significance in promoting the due administration of Justice.
In 1997 the Association adopted the following Mission Statement, defining the Association’s objectives as it approaches the beginning of the next century:
The mission of the Onondaga County Bar Association is to inspire excellence in the legal profession, to foster the fair administration of justice, and to promote equal access to the legal system.
The first president of the Association was William C. Ruger, who later became Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. The first woman President, M. Catherine Richardson, was elected to serve the 1987 term. Ms. Richardson is also a past-President of the New York State Bar Association.
Syracuse’s first attorney was Thaddeus M. Wood. His practice was established in 1794 when the “hallowed proceedings” of the Court of Common Pleas were held in Asa Danforth’s courthouse in Onondaga Valley.
Typical of Syracuse’s early attorneys was George F. Comstock (1811-1892). Comstock, who served on the Court of Appeals from 1855-1861, was a long-time member of the board of trustees and a major benefactor of Syracuse University. His gift to the University provided the capital for the institution’s move to its present location.
Julie R. Jenny was the first woman lawyer in Central New York. In the early 1920’s she became the first woman Deputy Attorney General of New York State. She also served her community well. She organized the Legal Relief Society, the Syracuse Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Professional Women’s League.
Many other members of the local bar are remembered for civic contributions. Among them is the late Stewart R. Hancock, whose efforts on behalf of the community earned him the acclaim of “Mr. Syracuse.” Continuing that tradition were attorneys like Benjamin E. Shove and Robert McAuliffe, recipients of University College’s award of “Meritorious Community Service.”
Although specific accomplishments and contributions of distinguished attorneys of the past may be forgotten, many of their names remain. Nottingham Road, Comstock Avenue, Hancock International Airport, and Charles Andrews School take their names from distinguished members of the Association. The Hiscock Legal Aid Society and the Senator Hughes State Office Building are also tributes to outstanding Association members.
Having established Onondaga County’s court system as one of the most efficient in the country, members of the local bar have long been instrumental in the administration of the state court system. Syracuse has sent more lawyers to Albany to serve as Chief Judges of the the Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court, than any other community. Hon. Stewart F. Hancock, Jr. recently retired after serving as a judge of that Court, and is now a permanent member of the Association’s Board of Directors..
The New York State Bar and American Bar Association have also felt the influence of Syracuse attorneys. Justice Ruger, the first president of the Onondaga County Bar Association, presided at the formation of the State Bar in November, 1876. Local lawyers including William Nottingham, Edmund Lewis, Frank Hiscock, George H. Bond, Sr., William Fitzpatrick, Joseph H. Murphy, and Lewis C. Ryan have headed the State Bar. The first woman member of the State Bar Association was Georgia Hare, who also received distinction from the Onondaga Bar Association as a recipient of the Fifty Year Lawyer Award in 1960.
Onondaga County Bar Association members have been long active in governmental service. Frank Hiscock served in the United States Senate, elected in 1887. Syracuse’s two governors, Nathan Miller (1921-1923) and Horace White (1910) and two attorneys general, Theodore E. Hancock (1885-99) and Daniel Pratt (1873), were all members of the Onondaga Bar Association, as was Lt. Governor Edward Schoeneck.
Throughout the years scores of local attorneys have served prominently in the state legislature. Powerful leading roles were held by such men as the late Senator John H. Hughes and former Assemblyman Charles Schoeneck.
Lawyers through the years have had a major impact on the administration of local governments. City Hall and county records of legislative proceedings are dotted with the names of prominent members of the county bar, including, in recent history, Mayors Rolland D. Marvin, Frank J. Costello, and Supreme Court Justice Donald Mead, who also served as the city’s chief executive.