David Siegel, Author of New York Practice, Dies at 82

October 14, 2014

By Tania Karas

October 10, 2014

David Siegel, a longtime Albany Law School professor who was considered the state’s foremost authority on New York civil practice, died Thursday at home in North Egremont, Mass., after years of declining health. He was 82.

Siegel was best known as the author of “New York Practice,” a treatise on civil procedure known to every lawyer who practices in New York. Originally published in 1978, the book is now in its fifth edition. For 37 years, Siegel wrote and edited the New York State Bar Association’s New York State Law Digest, which reports on notable Court of Appeals opinions, and authored numerous commentaries on civil and federal practice.

Beginning in 1993 he published “Siegel’s Practice Review,” a four-page monthly newsletter that summarized developments in New York civil practice. Its last issue ran in March.

Siegel was also one of the longest-standing members and former chairman of the Unified Court System’s Advisory Committee on Civil Practice, which recommends changes to civil procedure for adoption by the state Legislature.

Siegel’s writings have been cited in numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions, more than 250 Court of Appeals decisions, and thousands of state trial and appellate court decisions.

At a 2008 Albany Law event in his honor, former Chief Judge Judith Kaye joked that the Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) should be renamed SPLR —”S” for Siegel.

“Who among us doesn’t know that he is the—absolutely the—preeminent authority on matters of civil practice in the entire universe?” Kaye said at the time. “There’s no one with a bit of good sense who would dare ever to cross you on matters of civil practice, David Siegel.”

From 1972 until his retirement in 2007, Siegel taught New York practice, federal jurisdiction, conflicts and civil procedure at Albany Law School. Earlier in his career he taught at St. John’s University School of Law, and he also taught at New York University School of Law and Cornell Law School as a visiting professor.

Former students and colleagues described him as one of Albany Law’s best-liked professors, known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the law and self-deprecating sense of humor.

“He was a great friend, an amazing lawyer and a first-class intellect,” said Thomas Gleason, a partner at Gleason, Dunn, Walsh & O’Shea who was once Siegel’s student and later served with him on the civil practice committee. “I’ll miss him greatly.”

Though Siegel’s writings often dealt with the profession’s most arcane subjects, his humor made them interesting, said George Carpinello, a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Albany who is chair of the civil practice committee.

“He was not just brilliant, but he had a way of saying it that was very funny,” Carpinello said. “A lot of people know their material, but David had a facility with language and a very entertaining way of expressing himself.”

In a state bar essay published in 1981, Siegel wrote about the legal profession’s relatively late transition to standard-size, 8 1/2 by 11-inch paper—a change embodied, of course, in the CPLR in 1974 by the Judicial Conference, the Office of Court Administration’s predecessor. (“Legal size” paper was traditionally 8 1/2 by 14 inches.)

“The conference was acting under a power it then had to alter CPLR provisions,” he wrote. “That power was afterwards withdrawn by the legislature, and now we know why.

No organization that would deprive lawyers of three inches of paper can be trusted to make rules.”

In another state bar essay, Siegel described how he took up flying in the 1960s as a means to escape the tedium that came with constant study of the CPLR.

“That peculiar cloud, my friends, was fog, and I flew right into it,” he wrote in a passage on how he became lost for an hour. “As an expert on civil procedure, I can tell you that an act of that kind makes one eligible for treatment as an incapacitated person under the Mental Hygiene Law, if not as a decedent under the Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law.”

Siegel was a great writer because he listened to lawyers describe what was really going on in the profession, said Mark Zauderer, a partner at Flemming Zulack Williamson Zauderer, who also sits on the civil practice committee.

“He would always have a moral lesson for people,” Zauderer said, “which was ‘Don’t be the test case because then I have to write about it.'”

Siegel also wrote “Conflicts in a Nutshell” and the handbooks “Appeals to the Court of Appeals” and “Appeals to the Appellate Divisions.”

Siegel wrote frequently for the New York Law Journal and served on the newspaper’s board of editors.

Siegel grew up in New York City—he was a “bright but unmotivated student,” his family wrote in a short biography—and majored in Romance languages at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He was drafted to the U.S. Army the day of the 1953 Korean War armistice and served in Stuttgart, Germany for two years translating French documents.

Upon returning home, Siegel enrolled in St. John’s Law, graduating in 1958. He then earned an LL.M. from NYU Law. In 1962, when the New York State Legislature enacted the CPLR, Siegel “quickly found his professional niche,” his family wrote. The rules would define his life and career.

At Albany Law, Siegel created a scholarship fund for Law Review students that has provided financial support to 126 so far.

“This is truly sad news,” Albany Law Dean Penelope Andrews said in an email. “He is family to the Albany Law community. Professor Siegel was a giant in New York Practice. His work since the 1970s had a huge impact on New York law and on the law school’s reputation. We will dearly miss him.”

Siegel is survived by his wife of 45 years, Rosemarie Duffy Siegel; two daughters, Sheela Clary and Rachel Siegel; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Oct. 19 at St. James Community Parish, 129 Hudson Ave. in Chatham, N.Y., at 1 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be sent to Albany Law School’s Law Review.

Originally published by New York Law Journal