Hon. Paul G. Feinman ’81, First Openly Gay Judge on New York High Court

When Hon. Paul G. Feinman ’81 was named by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D-N.Y.) to the State Court of Appeals in 2017, he was asked about becoming the first openly gay jurist to ascend to that position.

“My entire career has been about promoting equal access and equal justice for all,” Feinman said. “I hope I add to the diversity of perspectives that the court considers.” He was sworn in on June 21, 2017, during Gay Pride Month.

Feinman, who learned he had leukemia in 2015, died on March 31, 2021, in New York City. He had resigned from the bench just eight days prior to his passing.

Feinman was born on January 26, 1960, in Merrick, N.Y., and graduated from John F. Kennedy H.S. in nearby Bellmore. At the College, he majored in French literature and was a legal intern in Upper Manhattan before earning a J.D. from the University of Minnesota, where he helped found an association for gay students. Feinman also studied in France at the Université de Paris VII (Jussieu), the Université de Paris II (Assas) and the Université de Lyon III. He remained a lifelong Francophile and treated his nieces and nephews to trips to Paris for their 16th birthdays.

He worked for the Legal Aid Society in Nassau County and was a law clerk to Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli of the New York Supreme Court in New York City before being elected to the Civil Court from Lower Manhattan in 1996. Eight years later, in 2004, Feinman was made an acting justice of the State Supreme Court, was elected to the court in 2007 and elevated by Cuomo to the Appellate Division in 2012.

Feinman was active in the New York State Bar Association, serving as the presiding member of its Judicial Section in 2012–13 and a member of its House of Delegates 2013–14. He also chaired the New York State Justice Task Force, and was a past president of the International Association of LGBT Judges and the Association of Supreme Court Justices of the State of New York.

Asked what type of judge he considered himself — a traditionalist or an activist — Feinman replied: “I decide each case based on the law and the facts. If others want to characterize it, that is up to them.”

Feinman is survived by his husband, Robert Ostergaard; mother, Judith Wale Feinman; brother, Philip; and sister, Fran Beilinson.

— Alex Sachare ’71