By Mark David Blum, Esq.
It has been since May ’07 since my father died. I can recall how awash I was with mixed feelings and wild mood swings, from sadness to apathy. It was during that period that someone said something to me that stood out. I was told, “they say you are not a man until your father dies.” It sounded so out of place and never meant anything until this week.
The death of Hon. Howard G. Munson has brought that statement home to me. He was my idol, my mentor, my teacher, and the gold standard by which all Judges are judged. Indeed on that Bench, Judge Munson was Moses on the mountain. Better yet, from his seat, Judge Munson could move a mountain and make it kneel.
Few people in my life have touched me and impacted my behavior like Howard did. If Travis Lewin of Syracuse University Law School taught me how to punch, it was Howard Munson that taught me it was OK to fight and to punch hard and not stop punching until the opponent was down dead in the dirt. Howard loved trial by fire, trial by ambush, and in doing so, showed me the real world of bare knuckled litigation. Even when fighting the loftiest of ideals like constitutional rights, Howard made lawyers better lawyers. He brought out the best in me.
Though his passing was on a Monday, I did not find out until Tuesday morning. It was the second day of a felony trial and much was at stake. The sudden news of Howard’s death was overwhelming me and the tears flowed all the way to the Court house. By the time I got there, I was ready to beg for a one day adjournment. Then I was struck with the firm conviction that Judge Munson would resurrect himself and kick my ass if I wimped out on a trial in his name.
It is my misfortune to have tried so few cases before Judge Munson. Every visit to his court room was a learning experience. Once, after the Balduzzi verdict, he called me about a settlement offer that arose and despite my being dressed in shorts and a tshirt, he brought us into chambers and we shared a cigarette and an argument. Debating with Judge Munson was always a loosing proposition but he was so good at educating you on your own stupidity. All you had to do was listen to your arguments in opposition. I have personally seen him have his 3 Manhattan lunch and then walk into court and be more alert on his game than lawyers bickering before him.
With the passing of Howard Munson, I no longer have that teacher and role model. It is my time to become a man in the court room and make sure I do his lessons great honor. Having had the few brief moments with Judge Munson that I did impacted my life and soul than has any other. Without him, I am untethered and without a rudder. I will not shame his name and allow myself to float aimlessly. His mind and heart will always have a safe harbor in my own. Though the world has lost a great man, I shall redouble my efforts to keep his dream alive.
I can only imagine the chaos at the Pearly Gates when Howard Munson arrived. Everybody would have had to step aside to make way. St. Peter would have no questions and lead the great Judge to his seat. It has been a long time since the Heavens have received a true judge and great soul. If I know Howard, he bypassed the entire protocol system and walked right up to God and said hello.
I would be lying to you if I said that Judge Munson and I were friends. Not once was I made part of his or his family’s social circle. With the single exception of throwing a napkin at him during a napkin fight at a local restaurant, we never had contact outside the courtroom or the sacred confines of his smoking lounge Chambers. I miss that and regret the lost possibilities.
More than anything, I miss knowing Howard was around. There was always someone out there to whom I could turn or upon whose teachings an entire life can change. Like with my own father, with Howard’s death I have to be my own man. I am going to have to find my A game and bring it to every show. Failing to do so would offend the very Gods that sit and watch over me. I would always worry about a duex et machina bitch slap from the great One himself.
Now I find myself a bit more alone in the world. In addition to recognizing my own mortality is fast approaching, my heart hangs heavy because I am without that which all sons need. My teacher is gone. My mentor is gone. The world has lost a great man whose mark is indelibly placed in the annals of history.
Judge Munson, I took your advice and stayed away. Truthfully, I would not have made it had I run into Eddie or George. Their loss is far more intense and personal. Losing control would have shamed your memory. I cannot do that. The fire in my heart and the fuel that drives my work performance was lit by you. A warrior does not weep.
My loss however, pales in comparison to that felt by so many of my dearest friends and colleagues. For them, I close with this poem
When tomorrow starts without me,
and I'm not there to see;
If the sun should rise and find your eyes,
all filled with tears for me;
I wish so much you wouldn't cry,
the way you did today,
while thinking of the many things,
we didn't get to say.
I know how much you love me
as much as I love you,
and each time that you think of me,
I know you'll miss me too;
But when tomorrow starts without me,
please try to understand,
that an Angel came and called my name,
and took me by the hand,
and said my place was ready,
in heaven far above,
and that I'd have to leave behind,
all those I dearly love.
But as I turned to walk away,
a tear fell from my eye,
for all life, I'd always thought,
I didn't want to die.
I had so much to live for,
so much yet to do,
it seemed almost impossible,
that I was leaving you.
I thought of all the yesterdays,
the good ones and the bad,
I thought of all the love we shared,
and all the fun we had.
If I could relive yesterday,
just even for awhile,
I'd say goodbye and kiss you
and maybe see you smile.
But then I fully realized,
that this could never be,
for emptiness and memories,
would take the place of me.
And when I thought of worldly things,
I might miss come tomorrow,
I thought of you, and when I did,
my heart was filled with sorrow.
But when I walked through heaven's gates,
I felt so much at home.
When God looked down and smiled at me,
from His great golden throne,
He said, "This is eternity,
and all I've promised you".
Today for life on earth is past,
but here it starts anew.
I promise no tomorrow,
but today will always last,
and since each day's the same day,
there's no longing for the past.
But you have been so faithful,
so trusting and so true.
Though there were times you did some things,
you knew you shouldn't do.
But you have been forgiven
and now at last you're free.
So won't you take my hand
and share my life with me?
So when tomorrow starts without me,
don't think we're far apart,
for every time you think of me,
I'm right here, in your heart.