Gustin Reichbach, the 65-year-old New York state Supreme Court justice with a penchant for making headlines, passed away on Saturday, July 14, at his home in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
In his time on the bench, Judge Reichbach was no stranger to controversy. Known once as the "condom judge" for handing out free condoms, AIDS counseling, and testing to prostitutes, Reichbach more recently made headlines as the “pot-smoking judge” when he publicly revealed that he illegally smoked marijuana to alleviate the side effects associated with his cancer, and openly advocated legalizing medical marijuana.
In an op-ed published in The New York Times this May, Judge Reichbach described the constant nausea, pain, and difficulty eating that accompanied his cancer, and the relief that marijuana brought. In the piece, he urged lawmakers to pass a medical marijuana bill this year.
“When palliative care is understood as a fundamental human and medical right, marijuana for medical use should be beyond controversy,” Reichbach wrote for the Times.
During a service on Sunday at Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn, friends and family recounted stories from the life of a man with a stunning intellect who believed there was nothing noble about suffering.
Reichbach graduated from SUNY at Buffalo, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He made a name for himself as an antiwar activist while studying law at Columbia University.
After graduating and passing the state bar, he worked for two decades as an attorney before becoming a Brooklyn Civil Court judge. He was later elected as a state Supreme Court justice. In 2003, he served on a United Nations tribunal in Kosovo.
Given just four to six months to live after his diagnosis, Judge Reichbach lived for three and a half years, traveling the world to Norway, South Africa and Corfu, among other places, with his wife, Ellen Meyers, during his last years of life.
In April 2011, his 22-year-old daughter Hope Reichbach, an NYU graduate who ran for Female District Leader of Brooklyn's 52nd Assembly District, passed away.
Judge Gustin Reichbach is survived by his wife, Ellen, and a brother. Donations in his memory can be made to the Hope Reichbach Memorial Fund, which provides scholarships for students pursuing Brooklyn-based internships.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Gustin Reichbach died on June 14. He died on July 14.