Robert Morgenthau

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Robert Morgenthau
Robert Morgenthau at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.jpg
New York County District Attorney
In office
January 1, 1975 – December 31, 2009
Preceded byRichard Kuh
Succeeded byCyrus Vance Jr.
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
In office
December 4, 1962 – January 15, 1970
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Preceded byVincent L. Broderick (acting)
Succeeded byWhitney North Seymour Jr.
In office
April 18, 1961 – September 4, 1962
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Preceded bySamuel Hazard Gillespie Jr.
Succeeded byVincent L. Broderick (acting)
Personal details
Robert Morris Morgenthau

(1919-07-31) July 31, 1919 (age 99)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
FatherHenry Morgenthau Jr.
RelativesHenry Morgenthau Sr. (grandfather)
EducationAmherst College
Yale Law School
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1940–1945
RankU.S. Navy O-4 infobox.svg Lieutenant commander
Battles/warsWorld War II

Robert Morris Morgenthau (/ˈmɔːrɡənθɔː/ MORG-ən-thaw; born July 31, 1919) is an American lawyer. From 1975 until his retirement in 2009, he was the District Attorney for New York County, the borough of Manhattan, having previously served as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York throughout much of the 1960s on the appointment of John F. Kennedy. At retirement, Morgenthau was the longest-serving district attorney in the history of the State of New York, although William V. Grady of Dutchess County surpassed this record at the midway point of his ninth term on January 1, 2018.

Early life[edit]

Morgenthau was born in 1919 in New York City into a prominent Ashkenazi Jewish family that had emigrated from Baden in 1866. He is the son of Elinor (née Fatman) and Henry Morgenthau Jr., who served as a long-time Secretary of the Treasury. His maternal great-grandfather was Mayer Lehman, a co-founder of Lehman Brothers. His grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., was United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Before going into diplomatic service, Henry Morgenthau Sr. had made a fortune in real estate, and became a strong financial backer of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. Morgenthau's paternal grandmother was born in Montgomery, Alabama.[1]

From the boy's earliest days, the Morgenthau family was well-connected politically. The family home was near Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Springwood Estate at Hyde Park, New York, and he grew up knowing Roosevelt.

After graduating from the New Lincoln School, Deerfield Academy, and Amherst College, Morgenthau enlisted in the United States Navy, serving for four and a half years during World War II. He attained the final rank of lieutenant commander, and served as the executive officer of both the USS Lansdale and the USS Harry F. Bauer. Naval records indicate heroic action during the Battle of Iwo Jima - the Bauer was attacked by thirteen suicide bombers, and survived a torpedo and dive bomber attack (both failed to detonate). [2] He saw action in both the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters, mostly aboard destroyers.[3]

After the war, Morgenthau studied law, graduating from Yale Law School in 1948. He passed the bar and joined the New York law firm of Patterson, Belknap & Webb, becoming a partner in 1954.


U.S. Attorney[edit]

In 1961, after 12 years of practicing corporate law, Morgenthau accepted an appointment from President John F. Kennedy as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. In 1962, he was the Democratic nominee for Governor of New York, and resigned his federal office. After his defeat by the incumbent Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Morgenthau was reappointed U.S. Attorney and served for the remainder of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.[4]

In January 1969, following the election of President Richard M. Nixon, Morgenthau remained in office, and for months resisted increasingly public pressures from the Nixon Administration to resign. He retained support from New York's liberal Republican U.S. Senators Jacob K. Javits and Charles Goodell. Morgenthau and his supporters claimed that replacing him would disrupt his work on vital cases, and that Nixon might be seeking to prevent Morgenthau from pursuing investigations that would prove embarrassing to the President or his friends. Nonetheless, Morgenthau's position became increasingly untenable. While well-regarded, he was after all a Democrat, thought to harbor political aspirations. Morgenthau's insistence on remaining in office seemed increasingly unreasonable. He was eventually forced out of office at the end of 1969.[5] Republican Whitney North Seymour, Jr. was appointed as US Attorney of New York.

Return to politics[edit]

Afterwards, Morgenthau served briefly in the reformist administration of Mayor John V. Lindsay as a deputy mayor, before resigning to seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 1970. Morgenthau was less successful in raising funds and developing support than were two other candidates, Arthur Goldberg and Howard Samuels, and within weeks, he withdrew from the race. Goldberg won the nomination, and was subsequently defeated by Rockefeller.[6]

District Attorney of New York County[edit]

Morgenthau returned to private life until 1974, when he was elected to the office of District Attorney of New York County. This was a special election caused by the death of Frank Hogan, who had served as DA for more than 30 years. Morgenthau defeated Hogan's interim successor, Richard Kuh. He was elected to a full term in 1977, and was re-elected seven times. He was not opposed in a general election from 1985 to 2005.[7]

Morgenthau was criticized in the press for his conduct in the wake of a major police corruption scandal.[8] Eight men who were falsely arrested by transit police officers in the scandal that shook the department were awarded more than $1 million in damages by a federal judge. One plaintiff, Ronald Yeadon, was a police officer. He was arrested twice while off duty and accused of sexually abusing a woman.[9]

Morgenthau retained a national profile while serving in what was technically a local office, in part because of his dogged pursuit of white-collar crime. According to Gary Naftalis, a prominent Manhattan defense attorney who had been an assistant to Morgenthau in the 1960s, Morgenthau believed that prosecuting "crime in the suites" was every bit as important as prosecuting "crime in the streets".[10]

Morgenthau announced in 2005, aged 85, that he would run for a ninth full term as district attorney. For the first time in decades, he encountered a vigorous primary opponent - former state court judge Leslie Crocker Snyder.[11][12] Snyder won the endorsement of the New York Times, which, like virtually all of the city's establishment, had long supported Morgenthau.[13]

Morgenthau won the Democratic primary with 59% of the vote, to Snyder's 41%. In the general election, he was once again the candidate for all political parties in the election, having been nominated by the Democrats, Republicans, and the Working Families Party.[14] Morgenthau won re-election with more than 99% of the vote.


On February 27, 2009, Morgenthau announced that he would not seek re-election in 2009, saying: "I never expected to be here this long ... [R]ecently, I figured that I'd served 25 years beyond the normal retirement age."[15][16] He was replaced by Cyrus Vance, Jr., a prosecutor under Morgenthau and the son of former President Jimmy Carter's secretary of state Cyrus Vance. Morgenthau officially endorsed Vance on June 25.[17] Vance went on to win the primary election on September 15, 2009[18] and the subsequent general election on November 3.[19] On January 20, 2010, Morgenthau joined the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.[20][21]

Notable cases[edit]

  • Mark David Chapman (1981): Chapman pleaded guilty to killing John Lennon[22]
  • Bernie Goetz, the "Subway Vigilante" (1987): Charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment and several gun law violations after he shot four men who he felt were trying to rob him in 1984.[23]
  • Robert Chambers, the "Preppie Killer" (1988): After confessing to killing an 18-year-old girl, Chambers was convicted of manslaughter and served 15 years in prison.[24]
  • Central Park Jogger case (1989): Five teenaged suspects were convicted of assaulting and raping a woman in Central Park. After Morgenthau's office investigated the confession in 2002 by another man, including finding that his DNA matched evidence at the scene, he recommended vacating the convictions of the five men and dismissal of charges, which the court accomplished.[25]
  • BCCI (1991): A fraud investigation revealed that the bank laundered massive amounts of money for criminal enterprises and had unlawfully gained control of First American Bankshares, a major American bank. Morgenthau claimed jurisdiction on two counts - not only did First American have a subsidiary in New York, but millions of the laundered dollars had flowed through Manhattan. The bank was seized by federal regulators shortly before Morgenthau indicted it for what he described as "the largest bank fraud in world financial history".[26] Its liquidators ultimately pleaded guilty to all charges, and forfeited all of the bank's American assets.[27]
  • Sante and Kenny Kimes (2000): These mom-and-son grifters were convicted of murder.[28]
  • Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz (2005): The top two executives of Tyco were found guilty of stealing more than $150 million from the company they had been entrusted to manage.[29]
  • Tupac Shakur (1994), he was convicted in New York City of three charges of sexual molestation, and served nine months in prison.

Notable assistant district attorneys under Morgenthau[edit]

Television character[edit]

The character of District Attorney Adam Schiff (played by actor Steven Hill), the New York district attorney in the long-running TV series Law & Order, was loosely based on Morgenthau. Morgenthau reportedly was a fan of the character.[3][35]


Morgenthau's other principal civic activities were the Police Athletic League of New York City, which he served since 1962, first as president and then chairman, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, of which he was chairman.[citation needed]


In 2005, Morgenthau received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York". Morgenthau also received the Association Medal of the New York City Bar Association for exceptional contributions to the honor and standing of the bar in the city of New York.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

His first wife was Martha Pattridge, a Christian, whom he met in college;[36] they had five children: Joan Morgenthau, Anne Pattridge Morgenthau Grand, Robert Pattridge Morgenthau, Elinor Gates Morgenthau, and Barbara Elizabeth Morgenthau Lee.[37][38][39][40][41] They raised their children in the Jewish faith.[42] Martha died in 1972.[37] Morgenthau was devastated by her death, and for a while afterward, he refused to talk about her in order to avoid memories of her passing.[43]

In 1977, he married Lucinda Franks, an author who won the Pulitzer Prize. She was also Christian.[44][45] They have two children: Joshua Franks Morgenthau (born 1984), and Amy Elinor Morgenthau (born 1990).[38][44] They live in New York City. His son Joshua runs the family farm, Fishkill Farms, founded by Henry Morgenthau, Jr.[46]


  1. ^ Morgenthau testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee, July 16, 2009
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Robert Morgenthau from the Jewish Virtual Library
  4. ^ Aborn For Manhattan DA or Morgenthau Forever?, NYPD Confidential (December 1, 2008).
  5. ^ Richard Perez-Pena, "U.S. Attorney Leaving Post In Manhattan", The New York Times (December 3, 1992).
  6. ^ David L. Stebenne, Arthur J. Goldberg, New Deal Liberal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 375-378. ISBN 0-19-507105-0.
  7. ^ MSNBC report on Morgenthau
  8. ^ Levine, Richard (November 25, 1987). "Koch Pledges Inquiry on Arrests by Transit Police". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Emery, Richard (December 12, 1987). "The Even Sadder New York Police Saga". The New York Times.
  10. ^ McCoy, Kevin. "Feared D.A. relishes taking down hotshots". USA Today, 2002-06-24.
  11. ^ Geoffrey Gray, Morgenthau Gets Witchy About Leslie Crocker Snyder, New York Magazine (November 6, 2005).
  12. ^ Leslie Eaton, Snyder Faults Morgenthau on Drug Laws, The New York Times (September 9, 2005).
  13. ^ When to End an Era, The New York Times (August 30, 2005).
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Karen Freifeld, Morgenthau, Manhattan Prosecutor Since 1961, Won't Run Again, Bloomberg (February 29, 2008).
  16. ^,0,6367166.story
  17. ^ Elingon, John (June 25, 2009). "Manhattan District Attorney Endorses a Candidate to Succeed Him". Retrieved 2009-06-25.
  18. ^ Lisi, Clemente (September 15, 2009). "Cy Vance wins Manhattan DA race". New York Post.
  19. ^ "Statement and Return Report for Certification General Election 2009 – 11/03/2009 New York County – All Parties and Independent Bodies – District Attorney – New York" (PDF). Board Elections in the City of New York. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Jones, Ashby (January 20, 2010). "Morgenthau, 90, Lands at Hard-Charging Wachtell Lipton". The Wall Street Journal.
  22. ^ Kenneth Lovett, Mark David Chapman tells his version of John Lennon slay, New York Daily News (August 19, 2008).
  23. ^ Norimitsu Onishi, Court Case Nudges Goetz Out of Cocoon;Subway Gunman Back in Spotlight, The New York Times (December 31, 1995).
  24. ^ Jose Martinez, Preppie killer Robert Chambers pleads guilty to selling cocaine, assaulting cop, New York Daily News (August 11, 2008).
  25. ^ Prosecutor: Drop all convictions in Central Park jogger case, CNN (December 10, 2002).
  26. ^ Peter Truell, Larry Gurwin, False Profits. The Inside Story of BCCI, the world's most corrupt financial Empire, 1992, Houghton, Mifflin Company, Boston, New York, ISBN 0-395-62339-1
  27. ^ Faison Jr., Seth (July 2, 1992). "Company News – Saudi Banker Is Charged With Fraud in B.C.C.I. Case". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  28. ^
  29. ^ Joel Roberts, Tyco Execs Found Guilty: Kozlowski, Swartz Convicted For Looting Company Of $600 Million, CBS News (June 17, 2005).
  30. ^ Kathy Chu, Cuomo makes a name for himself in replacing Spitzer, USA Today (April 24, 2007).
  31. ^ "Obama names Varney as to antitrust role at Justice". Reuters. January 22, 2009.
  32. ^ Daniel Gross, Eliot Spitzer: How New York's attorney general became the most powerful man on Wall Street., Slate (October 21, 2004).
  33. ^ Katharine Q. Seelye, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Heir To a Formidable Dynasty, The New York Times (July 19, 1999).
  34. ^ Katherine Bouton, Linda Fairstein vs. Rape, The New York Times (February 25, 1990).
  35. ^ Robert Kolker, Happy 85th Birthday, Bob Morgenthau, New York Magazine (July 19, 2004).
  36. ^ Poughkeepsie Journal: "ICYMI: Robert Morgenthau: NYC legal legend, East Fishkill farmer" by Nina Schutzman September 2, 2014
  37. ^ a b "Mrs. Martha Morgenthau Dies; Wife of Former U.S. Attorney". New York Times. October 6, 1972. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  38. ^ a b Morgenthau Family Tree Archived 2015-12-20 at the Wayback Machine retrieved October 3, 2015
  39. ^ New York Times: "Weddings – Barbara Morgenthau, Hanmin Lee" July 29, 2001
  40. ^ New York Times: "Susan Bryce Moore Becomes the Bride Of R.P. Morgenthau in West Virginia" June 26, 1983
  41. ^ New York Times: "Paul Grand to Marry Anne P. Morgenthau" July 26, 1970
  42. ^ Advance News: "Mrs. Morgenthau Grants Interview in Her Charming Home in Riverdale, N.Y." October 7, 1962
  43. ^ Franks, Lucinda (2014-08-19). Timeless: Love, Morgenthau, and Me. Macmillan. ISBN 9780374280802.
  44. ^ a b Poughkeepsie Journal: "Love, respect bind polar political ties for Morgenthau, Franks" by Karen Maserjian Shan August 15, 2015 | "(Lucinda) said, 'I'm a Christian, you're a Christian. We all bear responsibility for the Holocaust, for not doing more".
  45. ^ Teicher, Morton I. (October 25, 2007). "Pulitzer Prize winner's memoir tells of hidden family past". St. Louis Jewish Light.
  46. ^ "Josh Morgenthau takes over family pastime". The Poughkeepsie Journal. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Morton S. Robson
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
1961 – 1962
Succeeded by
Vincent L. Broderick
Preceded by
Vincent L. Broderick
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
1962 – 1970
Succeeded by
Whitney North Seymour, Jr.
Preceded by
Richard Kuh
New York County District Attorney
1975 – 2009
Succeeded by
Cyrus Vance, Jr.
Party political offices
Preceded by
W. Averell Harriman
Democratic Nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Frank D. O'Connor