Forty years ago, when we sold our first house, we had a minor property dispute with our neighbor and my regular attorney had to recuse himself from the case. I asked him who he would hire if he needed an attorney and he immediately responded “Richard Horigan.” He told me that Horigan was the best lawyer he had ever met but he also told me I didn’t need an attorney for this particular minor matter. He was wrong. I lost the case and I never got the opportunity to meet today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant.” That was definitely an even bigger loss on my part. Why? Everything I’ve learned about Richard Horigan in the process of preparing for this blog post confirms that not only was he an outstanding jurist he was also a remarkable man and I would have loved to had known him.
Horigan was born in Pennsylvania on June 26, 1925, the son of a retail executive who helped oversee his company’s east coast operations, which required the family to relocate quite a bit. He attended Prep school in Maryland and then enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 17 and ended up serving as an Ensign in the Pacific theater. After the war, he graduated from Georgetown University and then Georgetown Law but he also went on a blind date that ended up getting him a wife and a new hometown.
The “wife” was the late Marie Smeallie, daughter of a prominent Amsterdam paper manufacturer. The young couple ended up getting married here in St. Mary’s Church in 1950 and the newlywed’s original plan had them settling in Massachusetts, where Horigan’s dad was then living. But probably beginning on their Maine honeymoon, the new Mrs. Horigan began lobbying for a move to Amsterdam. She must have made a pretty good case because in 1951, Horigan went into a law partnership with Montgomery County Children’s Court Judge Lewis J. Mullarkey and the Mullarkey & Horigan Law Firm pretty quickly became one of this town’s most popular dispensers of legal services.
Many Amsterdam attorneys over the years have been professionally and financially successful outside of the courtroom but not so much inside one, when arguing cases in front of a judge and/or jury. The most effective trial lawyers are not necessarily those with the most in-depth knowledge of the law or who prepare the best briefs. They are instead the individuals who learn fast, process information the quickest, anticipate problems before they occur and stay two steps ahead of the lawyers arguing against them. Nobody in Amsterdam’s legal community did those things any better than Dick Horigan. While the attorneys he opposed in court would often show up with briefcases full of all kinds of papers It was not uncommon for Horigan to walk in with just an apple and a yellow legal pad.
Horigan started his own firm in the 1970’s proudly bringing in his son Tim as his partner and then adding James Lombardo to the firm in 1980. They took over the landmark former State Bank of Albany building in downtown Amsterdam as their law office’s location and have kept it in pristine condition ever since. He sadly lost his beloved Marie in 1977. Two years later a wonderful new merger took place when Horigan married Eleanor Harrower Smeallie, widow of Marie’s brother Peter Smeallie. The new union converted what had been two groups of close cousins into a family of 13 brothers and sisters.
Today’s birthday celebrant was a devout Roman Catholic. He loved to hunt birds, ski downhill, golf and bet the ponies up in Saratoga every August. His legion of friends absolutely loved him. He was ninety years of age when he died in November of 2015. At the time of his death, both Montgomery County Supreme Court Judge Joe Sise and E. Stewart Jones, the well-known Capital District defense attorney eulogized him as a “lion of the bar.”