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  • Maggie Donner

Historic Appointment for a Canisius Alumnus

On Sept. 29, Governor Kathy Hochul announced the appointment of Justice Mark Montour to the New York State Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department. Justice Montour will be the first Native American justice to service on an appellate court in New York State. Justice Montour graduated from Canisius College in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Justice Montour grew up in Tonawanda going to Cardinal High School, a relatively small, private Catholic school. Montour started his college education at the University of Buffalo but realized it wasn’t the right fit for him, so he chose Canisius because of the small class sizes and having access to professors. Justice Montour continued his education at the University of Buffalo and graduated in 1983 with a Juris Doctorate degree. Montour would go on to work as a lawyer for 30 years before becoming a justice.

Justice Montour will be serving on the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, which is located in Rochester, NY. Brian Ginsberg, a lawyer at Harris Beach in White Plains, NY, says the appeals court is the court where someone who has objections about their case in the trial court can appeal that decision and hopefully reverse the first decision. “The intermediate appellate court of the fourth department sits in panels, multi-member panels, and they will decide not cases that are brought originally… but appeals. So in other words, objections or complaints about the way a trial court or trial judge handled a certain matter in the first instance,” Ginsberg says. Ginsberg knows this process well. He graduated from Columbia Law School and works frequently on appeals courts. Lawyers submit written briefs to the panel which the justices then review and come to a decision to side with the trial court or reverse the decision.

Justice Montour talked about his role in the court and what the role of a justice is, “I sit on a panel with four other justices and we review the records on appeal, the briefs and listen to oral arguments and then make a decision on those lower court decisions.”

While Ginsberg does not know Justice Montour personally, he knows how significant the appointment to the appellate court is. The first reason why Justice Montour’s appointment is significant is because he will be the first Native American justice to serve in the appellate court. There is another reason why the appointment is significant from the perspective of a lawyer. Ginsberg says that “the Fourth Department is losing a lot of personnel. And from an advocate standpoint, we advocate for clients. We like to get the results of our advocacy as soon as possible and it's always nice when the court adds justice justices to help clear out to help get back to full strength.”

Montour says that the most rewarding thing about his job is the fact that he has the opportunity to make law. “I have a lot of respect for the law and the lawyers that practice in front of me, and it’s important that we work on creating law that’s right and proper, and related to the various issues that are before us.”

When asked about anything else to add, Justice Montour talked about his responsibility to take the role as the first Native American justice to serve in the appellate court. “ I have a responsibility as being the first ever to influence and educate people on issues that are affecting Indian country.”

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