by Ken Stewart
A great many of us who are blind or visually impaired or just love cross-country skiing enjoyed his camaraderie at Ski for Light events over the years. A few of us also had the pleasure of friendly conversation with him, his guide dog snoozing nearby, in his chambers at the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan. In both settings, the universally humbling harshness of a wintry Mother Nature, and the majestic pomp of the United States District Court, Dick was the very same real person.
The obituary, published in the March 24 "New York Times" following Dick's fatal heart attack two days earlier, gave us highlights of the very distinguished career which rarely crept into Dick's friendly social exchanges. During his 74 years, Richard Conway Casey earned a college degree from Holy Cross, where he played football. After training in the law at Georgetown, he served several years as a federal prosecutor. During his tenure, his achievements included convictions of a clutch of Russian spies. He went on to private practice where he began losing his sight due to retinitis pigmentosa. Ten years after losing his vision entirely, the Times obit told us, he became the first federal trial judge who was blind. He was nominated by President Clinton in 1997. While sitting on the bench, he presided over several celebrated cases involving the controversial partial birth abortion ban, and the notorious Gambino crime family.
It was my personal good fortune to share both Dick's love of the Ski for Light world and his professional dedication to doing justice, albeit at opposite ends of the juridical continuum. And I learned from Dick something as mundane as how to ask a server at a restaurant behind the courthouse to cut the tossed salad up in the kitchen, to render it less unruly. And how to confidently respond to an attorney appearing before me who doubted my ability to effectively assess the credibility of a witness, whom I could hardly see, testifying at one of my hearings. I still remember his tale of the vetting he underwent by sitting judges as part of the Presidential nomination process for the federal bench. One of the judges asked Dick how, without seeing a witness, he could assess the credibility of the person on the witness stand. Dick offered his opinion that he would actually be a more attentive and objective listener, not being distracted or biased by irrelevancies like the witness' dress or appearance. His comments evoked an explosively apt and confirming response from one member of the examining panel. He confessed that he himself had just presided at a trial where a particularly attractive woman gave testimony. The judge admitted that when the testimony was completed, he couldn't remember anything she had said!
The Times obituary also credits Dick with the good sense to swap a case with a colleague which would rest heavily upon visual evidence in a trademark infringement litigation. And Times readers also learned of the evolution of Dick's attitude toward his blindness, moving from initial anger and depression to an ability to manage his new life with humor and practical adaptations, one more aspect of the rich memories Dick has left us.