Statement of NYSBA President Scott M. Karson on the Death of Senator John R. Dunne

By Susan DeSantis

Statement of NYSBA President Scott M. Karson on the Death of Senator John R. Dunne


“The New York State Bar Association mourns the death of our distinguished member and colleague, Sen. John R. Dunne. Dunne, who passed away on Nov. 1, 2020, was an icon — an admired statesman, respected scholar and a giant in the law and politics. Dunne was a devoted member of our association, receiving its highest award, the Gold Medal, in 2006 and the Haywood Burns Award in 2019.  John also served as chair of the fellows of the New York Bar Foundation, and the Foundation’s John R. Dunne Fund continues to provide funding for legal services to families and children of indigent prisoners.

“John’s long and distinguished career included service as a law secretary to a New York State Supreme Court justice, and as head of the law department of the Nassau County Court. Throughout his local and state service, he actively practiced law on Long Island, as a partner in the national law firm of Rivkin, Radler, Dunne & Bayh. From 1990 to 1993 he was the assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice, and was a member of the New York State Senate for 24 years serving from 1966 to 1989. As a state senator, he served at various times as deputy majority leader and chair of the judiciary, environmental protection, insurance, and prisons committees.

“As chair of the state Senate’s Corrections Committee in 1971, he had the courage to travel to Attica Prison during the infamous riots to attempt to seek a peaceful resolution for the hostages and inmates.

“The late senator also demonstrated throughout his life an attribute that is key to true leadership: the ability to change with the times. A prime example was the fact that Dunne, who helped write the infamous Nixon-era Rockefeller Drug Laws, years later became an outspoken advocate for their eventual reform, recognizing the draconian result of mandating life sentences for those convicted of selling or possessing relatively small amounts of drugs.

“Later in his career, John was senior counsel at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP in Albany.

“We extend our deepest sympathy to his family, friends and colleagues.”

About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, NYSBA has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.


Contact: Susan DeSantis
[email protected]

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