Remember back in the sixties and early seventies when the Vietnam War was raging and then the Watergate investigation got going? All of a sudden two labels started getting used by the media. If you conformed to the popular view or to conventional wisdom you were part of the “establishment.” If you did not, you were considered “anti-establishment.” Well back then, Richard Insogna was not just considered to be anti-establishment, he was actually the leader of that much-outnumbered group of citizenry within Amsterdam.
Insogna’s story began much the same way that so many Amsterdam stories from his generation began. He was born here on September 12 1926 to immigrant parents who had come to this country from Italy. He made it through high school and not long after he graduated, he put on the uniform of the US Army and fought for his country in the Pacific portion of WWII. When he returned from service, he joined the many returning Rug City veterans who took advantage of the GI Bill and got a college education. Insogna went one step further than most. After graduating from Union College, he went on to Cornell and got his law degree.
He then became a member of the Montgomery County Bar in 1953, hung out his shingle and became a practicing Amsterdam attorney. In 1955, he married the love of his life, Mary Galinski, another Amsterdam native who would become one of Amsterdam’s most skilled and successful downtown merchants (Gabays.)
At first, it looked as if Insogna would follow the normal trajectory of a young and ambitious Rug City attorney. By 1958, he was already throwing his hat in the ring for City Judge. (He lost that election to the incumbent Republican Ray Zierak who enjoyed the overwhelming support of fourth ward Dem’s) Like most lawyers in this small town back then, today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant got his share of wills to draw up, divorce cases, and property closings but it soon became apparent that Insogna was the go-to attorney for folks who were facing criminal trials. And that meant a lot of his clients were folks from this town who were often considered guilty by most people before they were proven guilty. Like the fellow who just happened to be hanging outside the News Room on Division Street when State Police conducted a gambling raid or the two teenagers police arrested when they were found on the shipping dock of a local Amsterdam factory with a bag of what looked like marijuana seeds sitting alongside them. Insogna was the kind of lawyer who absolutely loved taking on these kinds of cases. He fought like a bobcat for his defendants. He loved addressing juries and challenging judges and when he won what was supposed to have been one of those open and shut cases for the prosecution, Insogna was not beyond an occasional public gloating or two.
Perhaps it was a little bit of “this guy is getting to big for his britches” attitude by members of this area’s legal establishment that almost ruined Insogna’s career and reputation. In 1965, while on a business trip in Florida, he received a call from his wife telling him he had been called by the family of an up-county resident who had confessed to shooting an Amsterdam woman in the back. They wanted Insogna to defend him. He flew back home and took the case. As it turned out, the victim, who fortunately had survived the shooting, moved out of town before the case came to trial and based on statements from the shooter, Insogna and others were accused of bribing her to move out of town so she would not be available to testify against his client. In a 1966 trial on those charges, Insogna was found guilty, sentenced to a year in jail and subsequently disbarred. Insogna appealed his conviction and it was overturned. He was readmitted to the Bar the following year.
Perhaps if I myself had been in Insogna’s shoes at the time, I would have seriously considered toning down my act a bit. That was the thing about Insogna though. He wasn’t acting. He considered himself a passionate defender of his clients’ rights and he was more than willing to do whatever needed to be done within the law to win acquittals at trial or get charges dismissed. That sometimes included public in-court skirmishes with his sister Evelyn’s brother-in-law, former City Court Judge Mike Riccio. Their animated in-court debates and differences of legal opinion made great conversation fodder at bars and corner grocery stores across this town.
Insogna was not just a non-conformist in a courtroom. He liked to do the same at home as well. He lived in the former David Chalmers mansion on Guy Park Avenue and when the oil crisis hit in the 1970’s, he replaced the oil-burning furnace with a wood burning alternative and set up wood splitting operation in his own back yard. And back when the Partridge family made traveling on school buses fashionable, Insogna purchased a used one, retro-fitted it into a camper, loaded up his family and took them on a cross country tour. He also loved acting and I’m not referring to his courtroom performances. He was a popular and highly respected member of the local acting community with both the Adirondack Players and Colonial Little Theater groups. He put a stage in the ballroom of his house so he could direct family productions.
He and Mary would end up raising six children and those kids were the center of both their busy lives. Richard Insogna died three days after Christmas in 2012. He was 86 years old.
Insogna shares his September 12th Birthday with this former President of professional baseball’s National League.