Robert J. Burke Biography

My wife Kathryn and I are proud to call ourselves “transplanted natives” of Rochester. I grew up in Haverstraw, Rockland County, the second of three children. My mom was a homemaker and dad was a sergeant on the town police department. He often talked about judges and lawyers, and introduced me at an early age to his attorney and town judge, William Ryder. On several occasions, Judge Ryder had me sit at his side during Town Court. I think that my father’s example and Judge Ryder eventually led me to consider law as a profession.

I graduated from Fordham College with an A.B. degree in History, and a minor in Philosophy. I then attended Fordham University School of Law, and received my LLB degree in 1966. Two weeks after the bar exam, Kathryn and I were married. We have been blessed in our six children and fifteen grandchildren. In December, 1966, I entered the Federal Bureau of Investigation, training in Washington, D.C. and at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia. As a Special Agent, I worked in Jacksonville, Florida and then in New Orleans and Monroe, Louisiana. In Jacksonville, among other duties I was involved in investigations involving the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of my work in Louisiana involved the Communist Party and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and some violent Black Nationalist groups.

In the fall of 1970, I joined the Rochester firm of Hickey, McHugh and Garlick, where I was trained as a trial attorney, with the great majority of our clients being insurance carriers, and some good sized corporations. I learned how to practice law from Jim Hickey, Thomas R. McHugh and Tom Garlick. In 1981, the firm became known as McHugh and Burke. Unfortunately, Mr. McHugh had a fatal heart attack, and I assumed ownership of the firm. Over the years I associated with many fine lawyers, including Leo Finucane, Thomas Rzepka and Chris Johnson. In the late nineties good friends Johnson Albright, Pete Harter and Michael Reddy joined me in forming Burke, Albright, Harter & Reddy which disbanded in 2014. In January, 2015, I joined Lacy Katzen as counsel with our daughter Virginia Krutell, a paralegal in the Estate practice.

I have wonderful memories of a number of judges before whom I practiced. Justices Jacob Ark and Dan Macken were masters of the art of the pretrial conference. Justices Emmett Schnepp, Joseph Fritsch, Ed Provenzano and Jack Conway helped mold me into an effective trial lawyer. In later years, I enjoyed trying cases before Justices Andrew Siracuse, Harold Galloway, Tom Stander, John Ark, Bill Polito, Evelyn Frazee and Judge Michael Telesca. I remember one case in particular where I represented 3M in a significant products liability case. Then Justice Ed Calvaruso was the trial judge and it was a hard fought case in which for whatever reason plaintiff’s attorney refused to negotiate, but in summation requested a jury verdict of $8 Million. He was not successful at trial or the subsequent appeal.

Another memory…I had to argue at the Court of Appeals a case involving a young woman who had been rendered quadriplegic by reason of a swimming pool accident. The day before I had developed a severe case of laryngitis and I apologized to the Court as I began my argument. The chief Judge suggested I keep my argument to the bare minimum, which was very difficult to do, especially when the various judges kept posing questions. We all got through it, but I don’t think I have had laryngitis since. In June, 1999, I was ordained a Deacon in the Catholic Church and recently was granted senior status (because of age). I have volunteered my time and talent at Monroe Community Hospital, and several non-profits including Matt Talbot Ministries, a 12 step program, and Bethany House, a home for women and children in need.

I always felt that the trial bar in Rochester was superb, both plaintiff and defense attorneys. There are many attorneys present here, including in the 50 year class who were outstanding tacticians. Although my results were mixed, I especially enjoyed handling matters where Angelo Faraci was on the other side. He was consistently well prepared, a student of the rules of evidence, and always a gentleman. If I recall correctly, one case that we tried was settled during the third day of jury deliberations.

I have amassed many great memories during my career – the best memories reflect the professionalism that defines our local bench and bar. For this, I will be forever grateful.