Sol Wachtler

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Solomon Wachtler, born (1930-04-29)April 29, 1930, is a lawyer and Republican politician from New York.[1] He was Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals from 1985 to 1993. Known for the remark, "A marriage license should not be viewed as a license for a husband to forcibly rape his wife with impunity" (in People v. Liberta), Wachtler was a key figure in making spousal rape a criminal offense.[2] He achieved national notoriety when he was charged with, and then convicted of, acts stemming from threats he made against a former lover and her daughter. Upon conviction, Wachtler served an 11-month prison sentence.[3]


Wachtler graduated with both a B.A. and an LL.B. from Washington and Lee University. He began his political career in 1963, when he was elected to be a councilman in the town of North Hempstead, New York. He was elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 1968, and to the New York Court of Appeals in 1972, where he served for nearly 20 years and authored close to 400 opinions. He was appointed Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in 1985.

His decision in Chapadeau v. Utica Observer[4] protected the right of the defendant newspaper (and by extension of the press in general) to cover issues of public concern without undue exposure to suits for libel. The reasoning of the Chapadeau decision was influential with courts throughout the United States.[5]

Wachtler wrote the majority opinion in a 1988 right to die case interpreting the statute's requirement of "clear and convincing evidence" that a person who can no longer communicate would have wanted to die in a particular circumstance. The majority opinion set a stricter standard of "clear and convincing" than the lower courts, and refused to let a patient's family withdraw life support. General statements by a person that he or she would not want to live in such a condition are not acceptable under the decision.[6][7] The decision was criticized by right-to-die organizations as being too strict and unworkable, and taking decision-making away from family members. Wachtler was criticized for writing the decision while his own 86-year-old mother was recovering from a stroke.[8] His formulation of this higher standard of proof was later adopted by the United States Supreme Court.[5]

As Chief Judge, Wachtler served not only as the head the Court of Appeals, but also as the chief administrator for the state court system. He made significant administrative changes, called for the merit selection of judges, implemented streamlined procedures, reduced opportunities for "judge shopping," and reformed the state's grand jury system.[9] Wachtler also tried to improve women's and minorities' access to justice. He created a New York State Judicial Commission for Minority Concerns, a Workforce Diversity Program, and a New York State Task Force on Gender Bias.[10]

Criminal charges and resignation[edit]

In 1988, Wachtler began an affair with Joy Silverman. At the time, Wachtler was a co-executor of the estate of Alvin Wolosoff, Silverman's stepfather and the uncle of Wachtler's wife. He was also trustee of four trusts stemming from Wolosoff's estate for the benefit of Silverman and her family.[11][12] The trusts (in aggregate) were reported to be worth US$24 million at the time.[11] According to then-United States Attorney Michael Chertoff, over time, Wachtler received fees of more than US$800,000 for his work as executor and trustee of the entire estate.[13] After his affair with Silverman ended in September 1991, Wachtler began to harass her.[14]

Wachtler was arrested in November 1992, on charges including extortion, racketeering, and blackmail.[15] He eventually pleaded guilty to harassing Silverman by threatening to kidnap her daughter.[16] He resigned as a judge and from the bar. He served a 15-month sentence, first at the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, N.C., and later at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., after he had been stabbed in the shoulder while dozing in his cell.[3]

Later life[edit]

After his release from prison, Wachtler wrote a prison memoir, After the Madness (ISBN 0-7592-4519-3) and a book of fiction, Blood Brothers (ISBN 1-59007-421-1). He also contributed to the book Serving Mentally Ill Defendants (ISBN 0-8261-1504-7) and has written as a critic-at-large for The New Yorker Magazine.

He is currently an Adjunct Professor at Touro Law School and Chair of the Law and Psychiatry Institute of North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital. He is an advocate for the mentally ill and has received awards from the Mental Health Association of the State of New York and New York City.

He was reinstated to the New York state bar on October 2, 2007.[17]

Wachtler lives in Manhasset, New York. His son, Phillip Wachtler, is married to Robin Wilpon, daughter of New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon.[18]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "People v. Liberta, CVN Law School". Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Van Gelder, Lawrence (27 August 1994). "Ex-Judge Wachtler to Move From Prison to Halfway House". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 January 2009. 
  4. ^ Chapadeau v. Utica Observer, 38 N.Y. 2d 196, 341 N.E. 2d 569 (1975)
  5. ^ a b Historical Society of the State of New York (2007). Rosenblatt, Albert, ed. The Judges of The New York Court of Appeals. Fordham University Press. p. 735. 
  6. ^ New York's Highest Court Rejects Family's Plea in Right-to-Die Case By E. R. SHIPP, New York Times, October 15, 1988
  7. ^ Excerpts From the Court of Appeals Decision on a Patient's Right to Die New York Times, October 15, 1988
  8. ^ New York Rule Compounds Dilemma Over Life Support By LISA BELKIN, New York Times, May 12, 1992
  9. ^ Caher, John (1998). King of the Mountain. Prometheus Books. p. 123. 
  10. ^ Linda, Wolfe (1994). Double Life. Pocket Books. p. 246. 
  11. ^ a b McQuiston, John T. (19 March 1993). "Wachtler and Silverman Clash on Control of Trust". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2009. 
  12. ^ Dillon, Sam (15 November 1992). "Wachtler Role at Issue In Dispute Over a Will". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 August 2010. 
  13. ^ "Estate Fee To Wachtler Is $800,000". The New York Times. 27 August 1993. Retrieved 18 January 2009. 
  14. ^ Barbanel, Josh (2 February 1993). "Wachtler Charged in Indictment Detailing Harassment Campaign". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 January 2009. 
  15. ^ Plotz, David. "Judicial Restraint: Sol Wachtler's worthy sentiments on prison." April 16, 1997
  16. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (27 August 1994). "Ex-Judge Wachtler to Move From Prison to Halfway House". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  17. ^ Ex-Judge 'Delighted' to Be a Lawyer Again, Associated Press, October 3, 2007.
  18. ^ New York Times: "Mets Are Prominent on the Madoff List, but Say They’re Fine" By RICHARD SANDOMIR February 5, 2009


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Lawrence H. Cooke
Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
Succeeded by
Richard D. Simons