Stewart F. Hancock, Jr. - Clip 1

Streaming Media

Media is loading


Stewart F. Hancock, Jr.


Peter W. Martin

Resource Type

Video Interview

Date of Recording





From the video archives of the Cornell Law School Heritage Project. The interviewer is Peter W. Martin; the videographer, Jaesuk Yoo. This video covers Stewart Hancock's experiences as a law student, his time in private practice and as municipal attorney, his run for Congress, and his career as a New York State judge, beginning at the trial level and ending up on the New York Court of Appeals.

Stewart Hancock was born in Syracuse in 1923. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy where he sang in a barbershop quartet with a cadet who would become a pioneer in the U.S. space program, Wally Schirra. After graduating in 1945, he later studied law at Cornell and graduated sixth in his class in 1950. He was a veteran of World War II and the Korean Conflict.

After working in his father's law firm Hancock Estabrook (founded by his grandfather) he became Corporation Counsel of the city of Syracuse in 1962. Two years later he was elected county chairman of the Republican Party. After an unsuccessful run for Congress he served for fifteen years on the state Supreme Court before Governor Mario Cuomo appointed him to the Court of Appeals in Albany in 1986.

After mandatory retirement in 1993 at the age of 70, Judge Hancock taught for eighteen years at Syracuse University College of Law as Distinguished Visiting Professor and Jurist in Residence. He also went back to private practice at Hancock Estabrook, then later to Mitchell, Goris & Stokes in Cazenovia. He served as the first Oneida Nation Court Chief Judge. He also took on pro bono criminal defense work and was Director of the Hiscock Legal Aid society of Syracuse where he volunteered throughout his career until his death in 2014.

Stewart Hiscock was known for his high intellect and introspection. In the Naval Academy cadets came to him for help with their studies. An expert in New York law he testified in cases around the world. He believed that law should serve society, not society serve the law. He was known for fighting for the little guy. He was a former Republican party chairman but one of the most left-leaning judges on the Court of Appeals and a strong opponent of the death penalty. His eccentricities were legendary: he would stand on his head while pondering cases in his chambers or break into song while hammering out positions with other judges.

Stewart Hancock came from a well-established family. His father was an eminent lawyer who became known as Mr. Syracuse. His uncle was the congressman Charles E. Hancock, for whom the city's airport was named. His maternal grandfather was presiding justice of the Appellate Division, 4th Department, in the early 1900s, and his paternal grandfather was state attorney general. He is also related to John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In one of many interviews Hancock said he wanted to be his own man and that everybody has an obligation to contribute to society in whatever way they can. After serving on New York's highest court he continued to use the law to advocate for vulnerable people and represented poor people in their appeals. A colleague of his on the Onondaga County Court, Judge Fahey said, "He was a giant in our legal community and a giant in the legal community of the state of New York. He was a very, very brilliant jurist who never lost his ability to appreciate the way the law affected people in their everyday affairs." Judge Hancock received the New York State Bar Association Gold Medal for lifetime achievement in 2000.


Cornell Law School, New York State Court of Appeals, Cornell Law School alumni, Hancock Estabrook




The initial phase of this project was sponsored by a generous grant from the law firm of Sutherland Asbill and Brennan LLP.

First of two parts.