May 5 – Happy Birthday Robert Briskie

briskie543Robert Briskie enjoyed a long life, marriage and professional career that included lots of success and a touch of controversy. Unfortunately for him and his family, it was also not one devoid of tragedy. He was born on May 5, 1927, the son of Leo and Mary Briskie. He and his big brother Norm were mostly raised on their father’s farm up near Manny’s Corners, north of Amsterdam. Both Briskie boys attended schools in Amsterdam and Bob was just about to begin his senior year at Wilbur Lynch High when his brother, who had been inducted in the US Army a few months earlier, shipped out to Europe. Norm Briskie was killed on January 5, 1945, while taking part in the Battle of the Bulge. His brother’s death did not prevent Briskie from joining the Navy himself and serving the final few moments of the War on the ammunition supply ship, the USS Great Sitkin.

After completing his military service, Briskie did what many veterans of his generation did. He got married, figured out what he wanted to do for a career and then went out and did it. His new wife was Jacqueline Wood, a Gloversville gal who worked for the local phone company. Their marriage would last 58 years. For his career, he chose the law. He got his bachelor’s degree from Utica College and then went on to Albany Law School. He passed the New York State Bar Exam in 1957 and joined the practice of Amsterdam attorney James Doyle, replacing Robert Sise, who had just been elected judge of the Montgomery County Family Court.

During the next half century, Briskie became one of the busiest and best-known litigators in Montgomery County. As is often the case for successful lawyers in small towns, some of Briskie’s efforts as a defense attorney were not popular ones with many in the public. For example, he won a lawsuit on behalf of a deliveryman who had slipped and fallen in the basement of Amsterdam’s Elks Lodge and the $60,000 verdict awarded his client, forced the fraternal organization to the edge of insolvency. He also passionately defended the manager of a local movie theater who had been charged with public obscenity, telling the local newspaper he would take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary to overturn the guilty verdict of the local judge. But he also regularly provided affordable and compassionate counsel to scores of less visible clients, helping them maneuver through and put to rest legal, financial and personal problems that were complicating and disrupting their lives.

He also spent a large part of his career administering justice to criminals as well. In the early sixties, he was appointed Town Justice by the town of Amsterdam and in the early seventies, Montgomery County DA Charles Hardies appointed Briskie Assistant DA. In that position he was the lead prosecutor in several serious criminal cases. But his tenure in that role was overshadowed by New York State’s criminal investigation of crime and corruption in Amsterdam’s city government and police department. Briskie was forced to shoulder much of the additional workload caused by the fact that the investigation had crippled Hardies ability to function normally. As the matter lingered on, Briskie called upon Hardies and the Board of Supervisors to formally request the state’s Attorney General’s office to appoint a special prosecutor to bring finality to the charges one way or the other. When both the beleaguered DA and the Board failed to do so, Briskie resigned, but not before he became the Republican nominee for the post in the upcoming 1978 election. He would lose that contest to Howard Aison and spend the rest of his career in private practice.

He and his wife would have a total of six children, four boys and two girls. One son Mark, died at the age of three, the victim of a tragic shooting accident on Leo Briskie’s farm in 1958. Their son Norman also predeceased his parents when he was killed in a car accident on Route 67 north of Amsterdam in 1974. Jacqueline passed away in 2008. Briskie kept his law practice alive right up until just before he died in 2014, at the age of 87.

Briskie shares his May 5th birthday with another distinguished and long-time member of Amsterdam’s legal community.

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