Top-court judge and Guilderland native honored

Photo provided by the New York State Court of Appeals.

"I think it's important that we encourage talented young people to look into government careers," said Judge Victoria Graffeo, who recently won the New York State Bar Association's 2014 Excellence in Public Service Award.

GUILDERLAND — Victoria Graffeo was busy last week. On Jan. 28, she received the 2014 New York State Bar’s Excellence in Public Service Award. The next day, she was an honoree at a dinner hosted by the Trial Lawyers Section and Torts, Insurance, and Compensation Law Section.
“I had two speeches and two awards last week,” said Graffeo, an associate judge for the state’s highest court, the New York State Court of Appeals.

Graffeo’s success in her law career comes from a history that didn’t always include judicial aspirations. After attending Schenectady and Guilderland public schools, she went on to the State University College at Oneonta.

“I actually went to college to be a secondary social science teacher,” said Graffeo. But, as professors encouraged her to think about law school, her ambitions changed.

“I thought it would be a great time to be a woman in law,” she said, “which it was in the late ’70s.”

Graffeo then attended and graduated from Albany Law School at a time when more women were entering the formerly male-dominated bastion.

After four years of private practice, she entered government service in 1982, working as assistant counsel to the New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. She then worked as Floor Counsel to the Assembly Republic Conference. After 10 years at that post, she was given the job of chief counsel.

Later, she was appointed by the attorney general as the state’s solicitor general, managing state and federal appellate case law until being appointed by Governor George Pataki in 1996 to fill a vacancy on the State Supreme Court, and was later elected to a full term. In 1998, Graffeo became an associate justice of Appellate Division, the middle level in the state’s three-tiered court system. Pataki appointed her to the Court of Appeals in 2000 for a 14-year term.

The court is comprised of a chief judge and six associate judges and, as the state’s highest court, generally focuses on broad issues.

“Every month, there’s really interesting cases,” she said.

Graffeo doesn’t attribute her success to only herself, but her peers as well.

“I don’t think that anyone’s success in government is based on individual effort,” she said. “It’s a collaborative effort.”

Graffeo attended middle and high school in Guilderland, where her entire family, and she, still resides.

“It’s home for us,” she said.

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