Richard C. Casey


Richard C. Casey, a judge of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan and the first blind person to be named a federal judge, died March 22. He was 74 and lived in Manhattan. Nominated for a federal judgeship by President Bill Clinton, he was sworn in to the judiciary Nov. 25, 1997. At the time, he had been a lawyer for almost 40 years and was a partner at Brown and Wood in Manhattan, now Sidley Austin Brown and Wood. He also had been sightless for 10 years because of retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease. Judge Casey was able to study documents by using computer technology, including a computer equipped with a synthetic voice that translated documents into spoken words. In 2004 he presided at a trial resulting from a challenge to the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which would have banned the procedure. Judge Casey, citing a Supreme Court ruling several years earlier, ruled that the ban was unconstitutional, but he described partial-birth abortion as "a gruesome, brutal, barbaric and uncivilized medical procedure." Then-Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a strongly pro-life legislator, called the ruling "a disappointment," but credited Judge Casey for "allowing crucial and factual evidence to be submitted to the record and a healthy discussion of the facts to ensue." Born in Ithaca, he graduated from the College of the Holy Cross and Georgetown University Law Center. Before joining the law firm he was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, 1960-1963. In an interview in 1997, just after he had become the first blind federal judge, he said that had it not been for the faith that sustained him after he lost his sight, he would not have been able to continue as a lawyer or become a judge. "There was a time when there was nothing but faith," he said. "When I became blind, I didn't know a single individual who was blind. I didn't know if you just sat there and waited to die, or what you did. You're facing life and what appears to be a grim future. The one thing you have is faith. You pray to find the way. I was blessed with the prayers of friends and family, and we found a way." He is survived by his son, Richard, and a granddaughter. In Manhattan he was a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist. A member of the Order of Malta, he had served as president of the American Order. His constant companion was his guide dog, Barney. A Funeral Mass was celebrated March 27 at St. Patrick's Cathedral, with burial at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.



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