Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise
On August 14, 2015, Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise died peacefully at his home in Summit, New Jersey. Son of Josephine R. and Elliott Debevoise, Debevoise was born on April 23, 1924, in Orange, New Jersey. He was predeceased by his wife of 64 years, Katrina Leeb Debevoise, and by two younger brothers, Elliott Debevoise, Jr., and Peter Huntington Debevoise. He attended the South Orange public schools and Deerfield Academy, and graduated from Williams College in 1948 and from Columbia Law School, where he served on the Law Review.
Debevoise served in the 294th Combat Engineer Battalion in World War II. On June 7, 1944, during the Normandy landings, the Battalion’s transport ship, the Susan B. Anthony, was sunk off Utah Beach. The soldiers climbed into other vessels and then into landing craft before proceeding to the beach. Debevoise served as squad leader with the rank of sergeant in the Battalion’s campaigns in Normandy, central France, the Hurtgen Forest on the German frontier, and the Battle of the Bulge, returning to Germany for the War’s concluding campaign and, after VE Day, joining the occupation forces in Berlin. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
In February of 1951, the most important event of Debevoise’s life took place – his marriage to Katrina S. Leeb. In April of that year, he was recalled into the Army, and served during the Korean War as a first lieutenant in the Army Security Agency. He and his wife Trina spent the first year of their marriage living in Army posts in Camp Pickett, Virginia, and Fort Devens, Massachusetts.
Between 1952 and 1953, Debevoise served as law clerk to Chief Judge Phillip Forman of New Jersey’s United States District Court. In 1953, he became associated with the Newark law firm of Riker, Emery & Danzig (now Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland, & Perretti), becoming a partner in 1957. For 26 years he engaged in a general practice that included commercial and corporate law and state and federal litigation. During this period, he was actively involved in the civil rights movement.
In 1964, as Chairman of the Essex County (N.J.) Bar Association Civil Rights Committee and as part of the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, Debevoise recruited other New Jersey lawyers to join him representing civil rights workers in Mississippi participating in the Mississippi Freedom Summer. Following this, he oversaw the formation of the Newark Legal Services Project, of which he served as President for the next five years. He continued his efforts to combat endemic urban poverty and racial injustice through his work with The Fund for New Jersey (as Trustee) and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (as Director and Vice President).
Additional public service included chairing the New Jersey Clients’ Security Fund and the Governor’s Workmen’s Compensation Study Committee, the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Review Board, and the Lawyers Advisory Committee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He dedicated nearly 23 years to the Hospital Center of Orange, New Jersey, serving as General Counsel, Trustee and Vice President.
On the education front, he served as Trustee of Williams College from 1969-1974, during a pivotal time in the College’s history when it transformed itself from a fraternity-based institution to a non-fraternal residential college, and was a founding Trustee of Ramapo College of New Jersey and Chair of its Board of Trustees from 1971-1974. He served as Adjunct Professor of Constitutional Law at Seton Hall Law School between 1991 and 1994.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Debevoise a District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey, in which position he served until his death. There he handled a wide variety of civil and criminal cases, ranging from complex securities matters to civil rights matters. Among his notable cases were the 1996 arraignment of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski; the 1985 collapse of the financial firm Bevill, Bresler & Schulman, in which he authored a landmark decision addressing the rights of investors in securities repurchase agreements, or “repos,” and his 1983 ruling declaring New Jersey’s “moment of silence” law an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on state-sanctioned prayer in public schools. Extending his initial 15 years of judicial service with an extraordinary 21 years as a senior status judge, Debevoise earned a nationwide reputation as a consummate jurist, deeply respected by members of the bench and bar alike for his intellect, fairness, and passionate commitment to justice.
Debevoise spent summers throughout his life on the shores of Casco Bay, at Mere Point, Maine, a summer haven for him and his wife Trina, their children and grandchildren. There, he pursued his lifelong passions of sailing and rowing. In 1980, he furthered his efforts to preserve unspoiled land on the Maine coast by donating a conservation easement of half of 90-acre Upper Goose Island in Casco Bay to the Nature Conservancy of Maine.
Debevoise is survived by four daughters, Kate S. Debevoise of Yarmouth, Maine, Josephine (Josie) D. Davies of New Canaan, CT, Mary (Molly) D. Rennie of Short Hills, N.J., and Abigail (Abby) D. Boozan, of Short Hills, N.J. In addition, he is survived by Josie’s husband, Ralph Davies and Abby’s husband, Dr. John Boozan, and by seven grandchildren – Ralph N. Davies, Jr., Heidi L. Davies, Samuel R. Davies, Katrina S. Rennie, Victoria B. Rennie, Gerard H. Byrne, and Philip H. Byrne – and by three step grandchildren – Peter M. Boozan, Matthew C. Boozan and Henry W. Boozan.
A memorial service will be held at Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral, 608 Broad Street, Newark, New Jersey at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 19th.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to St. Stephen’s Church, 119 Main Street, Millburn, N.J. 07041-1115, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, 60 Park Place, Suite 511, Newark, N.J. 07102-5504, Lamda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. 120 Wall Street, Suite 1500, New York, N.Y. 10005-3904, or a charity of choice.