Cobble Hill Man Sworn In As Brooklyn Federal Judge

Dr. William F. Kuntz II Becomes Second Cobble Hill Resident To Join U.S. Judiciary This Year

Brooklyn federal court judges Jack Weinstein (left) and Nicholas Garaufis (right) applaud Kuntz, prior to Judge Kiyo Matsumoto passing an oversized gavel to Kuntz, who will have to keep the gavel for as long as he remains the most junior judge. He is the only judge for whom the gavel will not be too big, Matsumoto joked to the 6-foot-4 Kuntz. Eagle photos by Samuel Newhouse.


By Samuel Newhouse
Brooklyn Daily Eagle

CADMAN PLAZA EAST — William Francis Kuntz didn’t like lawyers. The son of an NYPD officer, he was a postal worker and high school teacher who took night classes to get his degree in public administration before working for the Social Security Administration, and for whatever reason, he was not fond of members of the legal profession.

But several decades ago, William F. Kuntz I came home to his Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone and told his son, William F. Kuntz II, that he had to testify as a witness at a trial in Brooklyn federal court. He marveled at how the judge was so polite and courteous and treated him with such respect.

Then Kuntz told his son, “Billy, it’s okay with me if you become a lawyer.”

That judge whom the father had met was U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein. And several days ago, it was Judge Weinstein whom Dr. William F. Kuntz II sat down beside as Kuntz became the newest judge on the Brooklyn federal court bench.

A private practitioner for 33 years, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a Cobble Hill resident, Judge Kuntz was warmly received by his new colleagues at his swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday.

U.S. District Chief Judge Carol Bagley Amon of the Eastern District of New York slyly referenced the “barrier” that Judge Kuntz overcame by joining the court.

With his three children, (from left) Lizzie, Katie and Will, at his side, Dr. William F. Kuntz II, of Cobble Hill, takes the judicial oath on Wednesday evening in Downtown Brooklyn, as he is sworn in as a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of New York.

“For far too long there have been arbitrary boundaries preventing worthy candidates from joining the bench,” Judge Amon said to the crowd.

“The barrier of which I speak was recently broken,” when Judge Raymond Lohier, of Cobble Hill, was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit of New York, she continued.

Now, with Judge Kuntz’s appointment to the Eastern District, Judge Amon proudly announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have at last crossed Atlantic Avenue!” to uproarious laughter. Atlantic Avenue serves as the geographical boundary line between the Cobble Hill and Downtown Brooklyn/Brooklyn Heights neighborhoods. Judge Amon added in jest that all the little boys and girls at P.S. 29 on Henry Street in Cobble Hill now know they can grow up to become U.S. district judges, too.

Judge Kuntz was confirmed in October by the U.S. Senate, after he was nominated by President Barack Obama on the recommendation of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, which he officially submitted in October 2010. Kuntz replaces U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon, who took senior status in October 2008.

Hon. Kuntz was sworn in by Judge Amon. The bible was held by his three children, Will, Katie and Lizzie, and his wife, Dr. Mary Beal, then adorned him in his new judicial robe. Katie and Lizzie are both pursuing post-graduate studies, and Will is a scout for the New York Yankees.

During the ceremony, friend Joel Motley recounted the moment from Kuntz’s confirmation hearing when U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley inquired in what situations Kuntz thought judges could rely on their own personal beliefs to decide a case.

Motley then recalled the 6-foot-4 Kuntz’s one-word answer in his booming voice: “Never.”

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Judge Denny Chin, a personal friend of Kuntz, recalled their long friendship that originated when they met as parents of two sons at school in Brooklyn Heights.

During his remarks, Judge Kuntz thanked his family, as well as three late mentors — U.S. District Judge and former Brooklyn Law School dean David Trager, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Milton and U.S. District Judge Constance Baker Motley. A seat on the dais was left empty and covered with a robe during the ceremony for the three jurists.

Kuntz said the foundation for his life has been made up of a strong religious faith, confidence in the rule of law and a dedication to education.

Indeed, as a quadruple-graduate of Harvard with a doctorate in American history and 20 years of service on the New York Police Department’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, Kuntz’s accomplishments already border on the legendary.

He spoke reverently of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, which was established in 1865, and of the symbol of the United States — a bald eagle, turned towards an olive branch clutched in its talons on the right, but holding 13 arrows in its talons on the left.

“An eagle or a nation without the will, the self-restraint, the liberty to secure safety under the rule of law would be no more than a thuggish rogue,” Kuntz said, adding that “a nation with nothing but an olive branch is … lunch, prey.”

From Auschwitz to Dachau and Darfur to Rwanda, “never again will the law sit aside quietly — not in this court, not in my house, not on our watch,” Kuntz declared. “That is not our future, if the judges of the Eastern District have anything to say about it.”

Describing himself as “a kid from Brownstone Brooklyn and the projects of Harlem,” Kuntz told his friends and colleagues, “You put me here.”

Born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn in 1950, Dr. Kuntz attended Resurrection Grammar School in Harlem and Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx.

He then went to Cambridge, Mass., to attend Harvard College, graduating magna cum laude, and going on to earn a juris doctor from Harvard Law School in 1977, as well as his masters and doctorate in American history from the university in 1974 and 1979, respectively. He was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1978.

Kuntz taught at Brooklyn Law School as associate professor from 1998 to 2003, and was presented with the Building Bridges Leadership award by the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project in 2008. Prior to joining Baker & Hostetler as partner in 2005, where he specialized in commercial litigation, Kuntz served as partner at Torys LLP, Seward and Kissel, and Milgrim Thomajan & Lee.

Kuntz, who is the grandson of an NYPD police officer, served for 23 years on the city’s Civil Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which investigates complaints of alleged police misconduct and hears over 5,000 cases annually. Kuntz also served on the board of The Legal Aid Society of New York, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, the Brooklyn Friends School, the New York City Transit Museum, the Brooklyn Hospital Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the Federal Bar Foundation for the Second Circuit, and the Feerick Center at Fordham. He was also the vice president of the New York City Bar Association.

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Filed under Brooklyn People, Cobble Hill

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