May 31, 2022
Frank Spath was my one and only client in my legal career.
When I came to Albany in 1970 as a young lawyer, working for a state agency, I lived in a room (not apartment!) with no cooking facilities. I started having my dinners, usually, in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant, on my way home, on Madison Avenue off Lark Street, called the Betsy Ross. The food was actually good, and the owner, Philomena Spath, was a convivial sort. Often hanging out there were her husband Gerald and his brother Frank, both Albany firefighters. Gerald seemed a bit of a goofball; Frank was smarter and more serious.
One day they were beefing about a civil service exam for Fire Lieutenant, saying the questions and answers were, well, just stupid. I piped up and said it could be challenged in court. So on Frank’s behalf, I filed an Article 78 proceeding in State Supreme Court, against the City. Yes, the only time I ever acted as a lawyer for a client (I didn’t charge him). I ultimately argued the case before a judge. His decision agreed that the test was stupid, and threw it out.
Frank Spath did become a Lieutenant, and rose to yet higher ranks, had a distinguished career. He died on May 10 at 85 and I noted his obituary. Some years back, there was a feature article about Gerald, having the longest career (45 years) in Albany’s Fire Department. Then in 2011 his obituary. And a year ago I noticed the obit for Philomena Spath, who died in Texas at 85. I had not seen any of them in almost half a century. The Betsy Ross eatery has been gone for decades.
In January 2021, I wrote of another obituary, of Rick Burns — who held the distinction of being the only person ever to lose an election to me (for ward leader, in 1972). Then in February of this year I saw the obit of Edwin Tobin — who held the distinction of being the only person ever to beat me in an election for public office (city court judge, 1975). And the other day I noticed a newspaper article about the death of Donald Ross, 78, co-founder of NYPIRG. The name rang a bell; then I realized he was a law school classmate. Indeed, one of the few I actually remembered (unlike most others, he dressed flamboyantly).
I’m still alive; but beginning to feel like an ancient relic.