I met Judge Jerry Marks at his 90th birthday party, five years ago. David argued many cases before him in New York State Supreme Court and they developed a great friendship. He thought Jerry was one of the fairest judges in the system. David and I enjoyed a few dinners over the years with “The Judge” (that’s what his pals called him) and his lovely wife, Julie. He was witty and charming and loved telling stories and writing poetry. He also loved a good martini. Since he retired at 70, he’s had a lot of stories to tell, because he devoted his life to changing New York’s draconian Rockefeller drug laws, which sent people to prison for years for their roles in minor drug crimes.
One of the cases that caught The Judge’s attention involved 17-year-old Angela Thompson, who was arrested in 1988 for selling two ounces of cocaine to an undercover cop and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Angela, in fact, was acting at the direction of her uncle and legal guardian, who was also a drug dealer. She had no previous record. Jerry launched a successful campaign to acquire executive clemency for Angela from former New York Governor George Pataki.
“The Judge” died last week at 95. David and I went to his funeral service yesterday, where we listened to comments from another woman he helped to free from prison.
“I was in prison with Angela, and was distraught when she received clemency and I didn’t,” explained the striking, dark-haired woman, who was beautifully dressed in a black two-piece suit and a single strand of pearls. “I had no family and had already been in prison for a few years. The Judge came to visit me and told me he would help. He’d call me every single day. The day I was released, thanks to his work, he brought me a suit and makeup. When we walked down the street in New York, someone stopped us and said to me, ‘Aren’t you in a soap opera?’ The Judge said, ‘Yes, America’s Most Wanted.’ That’s the kind of humor he had. When I got married two years ago, he and Julie gave us a wedding party and The Judge performed the ceremony,” she recalled, as the tears started rolling down her cheeks.
“Judge Marks used his power to save rather than destroy lives and was the embodiment of the word justice,” said the political comedian and friend, Randy Credico. “Unlike the men and women who wear robes who hypocritically pass judgment on the poor, the disaffected and the hopeless in the current base, corrupt and Kafkaesque world of criminal justice, Judge Marks served God’s natural law, rather than man’s artificial law.”
Rest in peace, Jerry.