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A Fighting Spirit

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Colorful. Controversial. Courageous. UB Alumnus Gustin L. (Gus) Reichbach was never afraid to take a stand on issues ranging from antiwar activism to the legalization of medical marijuana.

UB Alumnus Gustin L. (Gus) Reichbach (Class of ’67) was a successful lawyer and judge for many years. But tragedy touched his life in unexpected ways. Reichbach was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008, and his only child, a daughter named Hope, died suddenly in 2011 at the age of 22.  Reichbach passed away in 2012, but thanks to the generosity of his wife, Ellen Meyers, his personal and professional papers now have a home in the University Archives.

Born in 1946, Reichbach was a proud Brooklynite. His social justice sensibilities, nurtured during his undergraduate days at UB during the tumultuous 1960s, remained strong throughout his life.  After graduating magna cum laude in 1967 with a BA in political science and earning Phi Beta Kappa honors, Reichbach enrolled in Columbia University School of Law, and was soon leading protests with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). During one campus protest, Reichbach was arrested for disorderly conduct, and placed on permanent disciplinary probation. He was ultimately acquitted, but because of his SDS involvement and subsequent co-authorship of The Bust Book: What to Do Till the Lawyer Comes, his admittance to the New York State Bar Association was delayed by the Association’s Committee on Character and Fitness. After an unprecedented eighteen months of hearings, Reichbach was finally admitted to the New York State Bar. Reflecting on the experience, he later wrote that, “under the very real threat of being denied the career I had sought all my life, I had refused the invitation to recant and was able to triumph on my own terms.”

Elected to the Civil Court of the City of New York in 1991, Reichbach served for a short time as a night court judge, and established a controversial HIV testing and counseling program, for which he was dubbed “The Condom Judge” by the New York Post. He was elected to the NY State Supreme Court in 1999 and presided over several significant trials, including the well-publicized trial of FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio. Reichbach’s bench notes, court transcripts and trial evidence, including a Brooklyn mobster family tree, are now housed in the University Archives.

As an International Judge for the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo and the Kosovo Supreme Court in 2003 and 2004, respectively, Reichbach presided over war crime trials and appeals. Returning from Kosovo, he resumed work on the Supreme Court, serving in this capacity until his premature death in 2012. At his funeral, friends and colleagues praised Reichbach’s remarkable creativity, insight, and his ability to meet adversity with courage.

Through newspaper clippings, correspondence, published legal opinions and private reflections on the judicial process, the University Archives’ Gustin L. Reichbach Papers document a remarkable personal life, a significant professional career, and a matchless point of view.