Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. has waited a long time to be sworn in as a federal judge, but it is a day he will not forget.
Surrounded by family and friends, Judge Geraci took the oath of office Friday as a U.S. District Court judge in the Western District of New York. The oath was administered by Chief Judge William M. Skretny near the end of the more than 90-minute investiture ceremony.
“It’s truly an honor,” said Judge Geraci, whose wife Karla Alexa Geraci held the Bible while their son Michael, an associate at Trevett Cristo Salzer & Andolina PC, held the microphone.
“I want to thank my family and friends for their support,” Judge Geraci said. “You’ve helped me become a better person. You’ve helped me become a better judge.”
He thanked several people including Sen. Charles E. Schumer for the “confidence he expressed” in passing his name to President Barack Obama who, in turn, nominated him; and the Senate for confirming the nomination.
Schumer was unable to attend because of commitments in Washington, D.C., but sent a letter which was read by one of his staffers. In it, he wrote that in his 14 years in the Senate, he has rarely seen a candidate who “so perfectly combines judicial experience, judicious temperament and complete dedication to his community” as Judge Geraci.
“It’s a pleasure to watch you fight for what you believe in,” Judge Geraci told U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter of Fairport. “You can’t beat a feisty New Yorker with a Kentucky accent.”
Judge Geraci said he became a judge because he believed he could do something for the community through law, then joked that he was looking for a life tenure position.
He attributed his success to the sacrifices of his parents, Frank P. Sr. and Anne Geraci, whom he said taught their five children that they had a responsibility to their community.
Judge Geraci also acknowledged District Judge Michael A. Telesca, who was present, and the late Justice Reuben K. Davis as role models, saying he never thought he would have the opportunity to serve alongside Judge Telesca and was privileged to so do now.
Judge Geraci joked that Judge Telesca is not just famous in Rochester, saying when his family went to Rome, they saw a picture of Judge Telesca on the wall of a restaurant, alongside a photo of the pope.
There were a lot of light moments throughout the ceremony, which, at times, seemed like a comedy roast with all the good-natured exchanges between many of the area’s highest judges.
Before administering the oath, Judge Skretny told Judge Geraci if anything went wrong to blame Judge Telesca who administered the oath to him 23 years ago.
It’s no coincidence the new pope took the name of Frank, quipped Judge David G. Larimer, referring to newly inaugurated Pope Francis. Judge Geraci said his classmates at McQuaid Jesuit High School had changed his name to Francis and that even producing his birth certificate would not convince them to call him Frank.
Judge Geraci, as U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Feldman pointed out, is replacing Judge Larimer, who was elevated to senior status four years ago.
Judge Feldman said Judge Geraci has big shoes to fill, then kidded that he has seen Judge Larimer on the basketball court and that his feet are not that big.
Judge Larimer bantered that the appointment allows him to send a reasonable number of cases to Judge Geraci, that the court was delighted with his arrival and willing to help if he or his staff needed help in carrying his files to Judge Geraci’s office.
“I’m proud to have you as a colleague,” Judge Larimer told his successor. “You will enrich this court. You add luster to it.”
Judge Geraci and Judge Feldman, who served as master of ceremonies, worked together at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the early 1980s, forming their own firm in 1987, which Judge Skretny pointed out they “ imaginatively” called Geraci & Feldman.
“I know Frank will be a great federal judge because he has all of the qualities to be a great federal judge,” said Judge Feldman, citing an understanding of the law and the role of the courts in a constitutional system; his interest and willingness to study law; his ability to put himself in the position of the people who appear before him; his courage; and his temperament.
Judge Feldman said Judge Geraci embodies every quality of his mentor, Judge Telesca, whom he said sets the gold standard and that there is no building more aptly named than the Hon. Michael A. Telesca Center for Justice.
Judge Geraci is the seventh judge appointed to sit in Rochester and the 15th in the history of the 17-county Western District of New York, which was formed in 1900 in Buffalo, separating from the Northern District of New York.
Judge Skretny said Judge Geraci was beaming the first time he met him at a bar admission ceremony last year because his son Michael was one of the candidates being admitted. Judge Skretny said he knew then that Judge Geraci was a humble and dedicated family man. He also called Judge Geraci a skilled impartial jurist the federal bench was pleased to have join its ranks.
Judge Skretny joked that Judge Geraci probably would have preferred a less formal induction, “like a pool party in his backyard,” but that he had been overruled by his staff, asking if Judge Geraci was getting used to being overruled.
“There won’t be a finer justice in the country than Frank Geraci Jr.,” said Slaughter, noting he “selflessly served” the people of Rochester and Monroe County “not only with wisdom, but dignity and grace so many of us have come to expect.”
Attorney Beth L. Kaufman, the Second Circuit representative of the American Bar Association, was also unable to attend which Judge Feldman teased was too bad, because he wanted to ask her about the thoroughness of the ABA’s investigation of Judge Geraci, which resulted in a “well qualified” rating.
One story he said she must have missed had to do with Judge Geraci thinking their firm needed a payroll manual.
“I suggested Paychex,” Judge Feldman said. “Frank wanted to draft one himself.”
Judge Feldman said that Judge Geraci included a provision that read “You can be fired for no reason at all.”
Connie O. Walker, president of the Monroe County Bar Association and Judge Geraci’s longtime law clerk, offered her “sincerest and heartfelt” congratulations, saying the bar association takes great pride in Judge Geraci’s achievements.
She said Judge Geraci not only exemplifies the best qualities of a judge, acting with authenticity, integrity and creativity, but does so with unparalleled humility and a healthy dose of humor.
About 400 people attended the public investiture at the Kenneth B. Keating Building, which was followed by a reception at the Riverside Convention Center. Because of limited seating in the main courtroom, many of the guests watched the proceeding on a screen in another courtroom or the jury room, which were set up to handle the overflow crowd.
Judge Geraci’s grandchildren, Chase W. Brock and Riley A. Tellier, led the Pledge of Allegiance. The benediction was given by Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark.
A lifelong resident of Rochester, Judge Geraci most recently served as a Monroe County Court judge and acting justice of the state Supreme Court.
He is a graduate of the University of Dayton and the University of Dayton Law School. Prior to law school, he served as a deputy clerk of the Rochester City Court. Judge Geraci began his legal career as a special assistant district attorney in 1978 in the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office.
In 1983, Judge Geraci was appointed as assistant U.S. attorney in the Western District of New York, representing various agencies of the federal government. He also served as an instructor in the U.S. Attorney General’s Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C.
Judge Geraci was elected in November 1991 to Rochester City Court and served through 1998, supporting alternative programs designed to help break the cycle of criminal activity in Rochester. He remains active with the Teen Court.
Judge Geraci is in the Monroe County Bar Association and has served on Monroe County’s Graduated Restriction Advisory Foundation, the Monroe County Catholic School Board, Bishop Matthew Clark’s Stewardship Council and chairs the board of governors at Mercy High School.
He and his wife Karla have four children and three grandchildren.