James Mulvaney, a longtime Garden City resident known for his trademark straw boater hat, broad smile, hard-nosed prosecutorial style in the courtroom, and love of story-swapping with friends, died Saturday in Sacramento, Calif., where he had been living for the past three years. He was 79 and had been in failing health.
Mulvaney, who worked as an assistant district attorney under the legendary Queens District Attorney Frank O'Connor, was a mainstay for decades in Queens law-enforcement circles.
Under O'Connor, Mulvaney prosecuted New York City's first medical-billing frauds case, according to Mulvaney's family. O'Connor was elected DA in 1955 and served for 10 years.
Mulvaney served as inspector general at the 1964 World's Fair in Queens, where he was assigned to prosecute bribery and other cases.
In the 1970s, he went into private law practice and became involved in a number of front-page cases in a swashbuckling era when lawyers, cops and reporters often shared stories and more than a few drinks.
One case, in 1982, produced one of the most famous headlines ever, "Headless Body in Topless Bar," in the New York Post: A mortician had been visiting the landlord of a bar when a drug-crazed man took several hostages, killing one. He then forced the mortician to decapitate the dead man - an action police later credited with saving the lives of others. Mulvaney represented the mortician and arranged for her release from jail. The charges against her were eventually dropped.
In 1972, Mulvaney represented a Baruch College student charged as a serial rapist. The student was released after Mulvaney's investigator located an unrelated but visually "identical twin."
In the late '70s, he defended a man charged with carrying a replica firearm in New York City, which is illegal. Mulvaney got a police officer to testify that the weapon fired real bullets, and therefore was not a replica. The charge subsequently was dismissed because it was technically incorrect, said Mulvaney's son, James of Long Beach, a former Newsday investigative reporter.
The senior Mulvaney had a softer side, said his son, now deputy commissioner for external relations for the state Division of Human Rights.
Mulvaney's raspy voice could be heard booming across a room as he swapped stories with reporters, friends and colleagues. He was a friend of the author and former Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, and befriended Breslin's gaggle of friends - Marvin the Torch, Fat Thomas and Shelly the Bondsman, who often appeared in Breslin's columns."He had a fondness for gin, straw boater hats and cut an imposing figure along Queens Boulevard," according to a family written note.
Mulvaney was born in Queens and graduated from St. Peter's College in Jersey City. He was managing editor of the Cornell Law Review and received a doctorate in law from Georgetown University School of Law in 1955. His wife, Eileen Mulvaney, died in 2005.
Mulvaney staged plays for the New York Bar Association, spoofing well-known judges of the 1970s and '80s. He was a founding member of Grandparent Advocates Supporting Autistic Kids, a support, information and advocacy group. His grandson, Daniel of Baldwin, is autistic. Mulvaney lived in Garden City for about 20 years and later in Rockaway Beach, Queens, for 10 years. He practiced law in Hollis, Kew Gardens and New Hyde Park.
Survivors in addition to his son and grandson include another son, Patrick, a chef and restaurant owner in Sacramento, and two other grandchildren.
A memorial service is to be held April 17 at the Bungalow Bar in Rockaway Beach; Mulvaney's ashes are to be spread over Jamaica Bay.