James M. Flavin Centenary Program
Remarks of Deputy State Reporter Charles A. Ashe
Chief Judge Kaye, Judges of the Court of Appeals, Members of the Flavin family, honored guests. It is a very daunting task to follow such distinguished speakers. My part of the program is to add some reminiscences of the tenure of James M. Flavin as State Reporter. I could probably pick out 10 or 20 reminiscences but 3 stand out in my mind.
The first starts with the first day I walked into Court of Appeals Hall in the spring of 1972. In those days the Reporter's office was on the third floor, with the Reporter's office majestically overlooking the park. As a third year law student looking toward graduation and the bar exam and being somewhat desperate for employment, I had noticed a letter from James M. Flavin in the placement office of Syracuse Law School. I had written to him about possible openings in his office and he had kindly written me back and invited me for an interview. Upon arrival at the Court, I distinctly remember being in total awe of the whole surroundings (thinking I had arrived at a Greek or Roman temple), and after being escorted into his office, he talked to me briefly and gave me an offer of a temporary appointment on the spot. To this day I have no doubt that the key factor was the Syracuse connection, he being a distinguished former graduate, and not the rest of my somewhat sparse resume. Interestingly, in my current office I am sitting at the very desk used by James Flavin during at least the latter part of his reportership, the same desk he sat behind during my interview, so in some sense I feel that there's still a link there, maybe a little like the Cardozo desks some of the Judges still have. I don't think that Mr. Flavin would mind that I have a few M & M's and Butterfingers in the bottom drawer.
The next reminiscence concerns the legend of Mr. Flavin's headnoting prowess. As the State Reporter Mr. Flavin did not involve himself much in day to day editing, but the story was that during much of his tenure, mostly before my time, he would read opinions and verbally dictate headnotes off the top of his head to a stenographer or by using a dictaphone, the technogical marvel of the time. You have to be an oldtimer like me to remember those. It was said that that he frequently came in on Saturdays to perform this task. As a person who has worked on a fair number of headnotes this story impresses me, as the typical headnoting methodology of those days was a laborious handwritten process on legal pads, with manuscripts being sent out to front office typists. I'm pretty sure that the essence of the story was true because I always found Mr. Flavin to be intellectually brilliant and a very accomplished analyst.
The third reminiscence, of course, concerns the early beginnings of electronic research by computer. My first encounter with the process was when the first Mead Data computer terminal was brought into Court of Appeals Hall, probably in late 1973 or 1974. To my surprise Mr. Flavin selected me, probably because of my junior status on the attorney staff, as one of the guinea pigs to experiment with the new fangled research system. I remember him being very excited about some of the early projects we got into, like the previously unheard of ability to do field searches, such as finding opinions by particular judges or doing quantitative searches to find how many opinions a certain judge had written. Quite a few times he tasked me with some of his special research projects. I wish he could see the legal research world now. I know he would be amazed by the Law Reporting Bureau Web site.
As I said before there are many Flavin stories that could be told, but I think today's presentations have given us a great perspective on the unique creative legal genius and great vision of James M. Flavin as a Reporter. It is no exaggeration to call him one of the greatest who have served in that capacity.