Beneath the stern image of former state Supreme Court Justice John DiNoto was a man with compassion, dry wit and love of life, said those who knew him best.
He served 14 years on the bench, but in his private life, friends and family said DiNoto loved sailing and fishing with relatives on Long Island Sound and the Great South Bay. A resident of Southold, he relished speaking secret languages with his grandchildren, deer hunting with the family and riding his treasured Harley-Davidson motorcycle to Maine and Canada — and often to work at the courthouse.
“He was kind of a rebel in that way,” his son Gregory DiNoto, of Brooklyn, said with a laugh.
After battling renal cancer since last fall, John DiNoto died May 9 of complications from the disease at his Southold home. He was 83.
Born in Brooklyn in February 1935, DiNoto graduated with law degrees from Dartmouth College and New York Law School and later served as chief clerk of the Nassau County and Surrogate courts before becoming a Nassau District Court judge in 1985 and a state Supreme Court justice in 1986.
In the state court, DiNoto presided over several high-profile cases, including his 1988 ruling that prevented bulldozing of a beach area behind a 48-unit luxury condominium at Atlantic Beach in Hempstead. The area was home to the piping plover, a tiny, endangered sand-colored bird.
“We were proud that he took a stand to help protect the habitat of this bird that was endangered by rampant development,” said Gregory DiNoto. “He would never brag about any of his decisions, but we as a family were proud of what he was doing.”
Robert DiNoto, of Cold Spring Harbor, said he loved to hear his father’s stories about growing up when Robert and his brother Eugene DiNoto, who lives in Maryland, drove there with their dad for an annual November deer hunting trip.
“I learned more about the history of my father, my father’s family, and his growing up on those rides,” Robert DiNoto said. “It got a little repetitive as he got older, but I still enjoyed hearing them.”
Murray Henner met longtime friend John DiNoto when Henner was co-counsel to the Nassau County public administrator decades ago. The two had traveled together to Europe and kept in touch long after Henner moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, 17 years ago.
“He had a joie de vivre, a zest for life,” Henner said.
DiNoto is survived by his second wife, Jeanmarie DiNoto; another son, Anthony DiFalco, of Chicago; daughters Cristina Bertrand, of Pennsylvania, and Ellen Colozzi, of Glen Head; sister Andrea DiNoto; 11 grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
A memorial Mass will be said at 11 a.m. on Aug. 18 at St. Patrick’s Church in Southold. Memorial donations may be made to the Nature Conservancy.