Caseload of grief: Ridge icon Judge Arthur Schack is dead at 71

Caseload of grief: Ridge icon Judge Arthur Schack is dead at 71
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

He rests his case.

Unpretentious Bay Ridge New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur M. Schack — a national champion of the little guy in foreclosure cases and a grassroots hero of kids who knew him as Artie the local scout leader — died on May 2 of a blood disorder in a Manhattan hospital, surrounded by his family. He was 71 years old.

The former Bay Ridge High School teacher and Troop 20 leader was born in Bensonhurst and enjoyed an illustrious career on the bench, beginning with his 1999 election to the Kings County Criminal Court. Schack, a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and legal counsel to the Major League Baseball Players Association, was fond of quoting Shakespeare and quickly distinguished himself in judicial circles with his deep knowledge of the law, which he shared liberally with new attorneys as president of the Kings County American Inn of Court.

His quirky side, including once targeting a lawyer with a bullseye poster during trial, was refreshing in the staid world of legal eagles, a friend said.

“Artie was a dynamic presence, and the most honest person who simply thought the courts were for the people,” said Chuck Otey, a lawyer and Ridge activist.

Schack was married to local district leader Dilia Schack, and routinely performed induction ceremonies for the Dyker Heights Civic Association, the Bay Ridge Community Council, and other local groups, earning a reputation as an affable, go-to judge. But in the courtroom, he was a tenacious pit bull looking into the lawfulness of the massive amounts of foreclosures the housing crisis of the late 2000s generated.

The industrious watchdog, whose notable career and rulings were often discussed in the media, didn’t always wait for opposing lawyers to argue about mortgage ownerships, instead investigating the problems himself and dismissing most cases on their own motions.

“If you are going to take away somebody’s house, you have to do it the right way,” Schack told the New York Times in 2008. “You have to have due process, and the law has to be followed.”

That year, he refused to allow foreclosure in 13 out of 14 published decisions in the first seven months, dismissing 12 cases without prejudice because of unproven ownership, according to the Times.

Schack’s legal eagle buddies knew him as a happy-go-lucky pal, but they minded their Ps and Qs in his courtroom.

“Being friends with Artie didn’t count when you were arguing your case,” said Merchants of Third Avenue president Robert Howe, a real estate lawyer who appeared before him multiple times. “He made attorneys prove their cases.”

The magistrate was as magisterial about his community work, said fellow grassroots gladiators.

Schack was a familiar face at local civic meetings and events, and among the first to volunteer aid, said Community Board 10’s district manager.

“Artie always took the time to help out,” said Josephine Beckmann, who remembers him delivering blankets, clothing, and food to churches in Coney Island after Hurricane Sandy. “He was a very smart and compassionate man whose life’s mission was community service.”

Judge Arthur M. Schack is survived by his wife, Dilia; their children, Elaine and Doug; and two grandchildren.

A service was held at Sherman’s Flatbush Memorial Chapel on followed by the funeral at Green-Wood Cemetery on May 4. Shiva will be conducted at the Schack home [8903 Ridge Blvd., off Third Avenue] on May 4, 5-8 pm; May 5, 1-8 pm; and May 6, 11:30 am–2 pm.