Only a few years removed from an accomplished and varied career as a Judge, including service on the New York State Supreme Court, The Hon. Jeffrey D. Lebowitz has quickly -- and appropriately -- assumed a key role as a litigator and mediator of matrimonial-law cases on Long Island. Now in his early 60s and practicing with the 65-lawyer Jaspan Schlesinger firm in Garden City, New York, Judge Lebowitz has been respected by peers for over two decades. He left the bench with a strong personal and professional bond with many of his former colleagues. His transition to practicing attorney was borne of a simple desire to "use my experience to help those facing the same problems I'd seen every day in my courtroom." Indeed, his career journey -- from a civil, criminal and family court judge, to becoming a State Supreme Court Justice -- might suggest he carries a towering and insufferable ego. In fact, quite the opposite, Judge Lebowitz is to this day approachable, down-to-earth, and, above all, with an abiding sense of fairness. All of that is reflected in the way he practices: In a profession with great and powerful intellects, Lebowitz is known for having, as a longtime peer says, "that everyman's sense of decency and fair-mindedness."
Growing up in Jackson Heights, Queens (then a heterogeneous mix of Jewish, Italian and Irish families), Lebowitz had plenty of positive influences. For starters, his father ran his own legal practice -- a solo practitioner -- "the hardest thing a lawyer can do. It gave me the necessary perspective into the practice of law when I was a judge. My father always understood and related to the issues his clients faced." At Newtown High School in nearby Elmhurst, Queens, Lebowitz was, by his own estimation, "kind of nerdy before the word came along." Yet outgoing and affable, he was, as he says, "comfortable in all circles, always part of the neighborhood." He says it was his mother who encouraged him to set goals and strive and encouraged him to go to law school. Upon graduation from SUNY Binghamton where he produced many of the college's musical concerts, he went to law school, with an eye on becoming an entertainment lawyer, an idea not so far-fetched, as he interviewed with a music video start-up company that would ultimately become MTV. "They hadn't even opened the moving boxes at the time." He adds, "Becoming a judge really wasn't on my radar at the time." But after law school he joined the staff of then-Supreme Court Judge J. Phillip Chetta, where he absorbed first-hand the virtues of the courtroom, its processes and culture. After years of courtroom experience, in 1993 he was appointed by Mayor David Dinkins as an interim Civil Court Judge in New York City.
He was later reappointed by both Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. In 1999 he was appointed an acting Supreme Court Justice and in 2009 was appointed a Judge of the Court of Claims by Gov. David Patterson. He became president of the Association of New York State Designated Justices -- which promoted the professional interests of nearly 200 Supreme Court judges throughout the state. By the time Judge Lebowitz assumed the helm of that group, state judges hadn't received a pay increase in more than a decade, and top-flight judges were leaving the bench. "No pay increase in 13 years - it all offended my sense of fairness." In 2013 Albany finally acted, issuing a new pay scale for the state's judiciary, now regularly reviewed. "Finally judges are receiving appropriate compensation for the important work they do every day." It was, in part, the result of political pressure created by Judge Lebowitz and many of his judicial colleagues.
By 2013, after 22 years on the bench, ten of those years dedicated to family law cases and fully recovered from an illness that required surgery, Judge Lebowitz, eager to practice law, considered his options; one was an opportunity with Steven R. Schlesinger, managing partner of the Jaspan firm and a longtime law school friend. The Jaspan firm, founded in 1946 and with a broad litigation practice and a progressive culture (it boasts more women partners than any firm its size in the state) has been building its family law department in recent years; the addition of Justice Anthony Falanga, then Judge Lebowitz - as special counsel to the firm - was part of that growth. Today, beyond his professional career, he contributes to the public interest by chairing Gov. Cuomo's Second Department Screening Panel which reviews credentials of candidates to the Appellate Courts and the Statewide Judicial Screening Panel that reviews candidates to the New York State Court of Claims. "Helping to ensure the quality of the judiciary is perhaps the greatest contribution a lawyer can make to his profession." Judge Lebowitz was also appointed by Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks as a member of the Statewide Matrimonial Practice Advisory and Rules Committee. In appointing Judge Lebowitz, Judge Marks stressed his experience as both a judge and attorney, and his longstanding commitment to improve the practice of law.
Now, with grown children, Judge Lebowitz still lives in Queens. He is a lifelong fan of the New York Jets and Mets; "a glutton for punishment." When he has time during the season, he takes part in rotisserie baseball leagues.