By: Mike Murphy//July 24, 2014
By: Mike Murphy//July 24, 2014//
It was a cold, miserable Saturday in January when Joseph Midiri noticed the large trash receptacle parked in front of a law office in downtown Albany.
The family practice had disbanded, and Midiri feared that many of the firm’s law books were headed for the trash.
The thought of these books, some dating back to the early 19th century, rotting away in a landfill only added misery to the day for Midiri, who today is an attorney at Midey Mirras & Ricci LLP in Geneva, Ontario County.
The son of an antique clock collector, Midiri also was a history buff with a keen interest in law — and the scene before him played to all of his interests. So he talked the mover into delivering the books to his apartment, beginning his collection of old legal books and treatises and other legal-related memorabilia that continues to grow.
“I love books,” Midiri said. “Some are worth money but I don’t collect for the purpose to sell and make money. It’s fun to collect and to find them.”
While many items are tucked away in storage, his Geneva law office is filled with bar admissions, old law school degrees (including his, from Thomas M. Cooley Law School), Supreme Court admissions, early law licenses and a framed lawyer’s prayer. He has photos of judges and presidents, and busts of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy Jr.
And he has books, including one of New York statutes dating back to the late 1700s, an 1832 treatise on bailments and many Corpus Juris volumes.
Midiri, 43, has always carried an intense interest in the law, but came to lawyering a bit later. He was an American history major in his undergrad years in Albany and served as paralegal for 20 years before graduating law school in 2007. He passed the state bar two years ago, and said he is proud to say he’s a New York lawyer.
“If I was independently wealthy, I’d never charge a cent,” Midiri said. “It’s about helping people.”
While he does collect books, Midiri also has stepped in to find suitable homes for them for those he doesn’t keep.
Midiri also served a stint as court clerk in the town of Victor, and left behind a 1950s set of law books to help fill out a bookcase in the courtroom and add to its law library, said Terri Bolt, who serves as court clerk to Victor Justice Reid A. Holter.
“It adds to the judicial atmosphere and it just looks nice,” Bolt said. “He loves old law books — the older, the better. He’s always on the hunt.”
Midiri’s criminal, family and real estate law practice work takes him as far west as Greece Town Court, but he’ll travel even farther if he gets wind of the availability of a new addition to his collection.
Just two years ago he said he was able to rescue a large collection of law books headed for the trash in Buffalo and has saved other collections in Waterloo, Seneca Falls and Penn Yan from similar fates.
The advent of the Internet could spell the end to many smaller libraries, as case law and statutes can be found online. But many of the books are being lost for different reasons.
Most of his finds are generated online, but he has obtained loads of books after hearing about the closings of law practices or through estate sales.
“This is happening all over the area,” Midiri said. “A lot of times when attorneys pass away, the family has to take care of the books but they don’t know what to do with them.”
Midiri is a unique personality, and meticulous and thorough, all of which proved a great fit at the Victor Town Court, Bolt said. That has served him well in both law and collecting.
“He is likable and sincere,” Bolt said. “We always said to Joe, ‘You’d make a great curator at a museum.’”
And, Midiri said, visitors often tell him is office is a museum.
“The only thing modern is the computer,” Midiri said. “Anything law is interesting. It’s exciting. It’s a way of honoring attorneys of the past.”