Leonard L. Finz, former State Supreme Court Justice and respected lawyer, dies at 98
Leonard L. Finz was a Renaissance man.
A former New York State Supreme Court justice and a respected lawyer, a decorated World War II veteran and college professor, Finz also was a professional singer, songwriter and a novelist, according to his family.
“My father and I had a very special relationship. Although he was my father and my mentor, he was also my best friend and my guiding light, from the time I was a child up until the time that he passed away,” said his son, Stuart L. Finz.
Finz, of Manhasset, died Wednesday of cancer. He was 98.
Finz was born Aug. 17, 1924, in a walk-up tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to immigrant parents. He went to elementary school in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and attended the High School of Music and Art in upper Manhattan.
At 18, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he was assigned to Special Services as a producer, director and performer of shows for the military. He was later assigned to the U.S. Army Band as a saxophone and clarinet specialist, according to his family.
According to his son, Finz said he “didn’t want to play the sax on parade grounds while combat soldiers were dying in battle for our country.” So, he applied to the Field Artillery Officer Candidate School and was later commissioned as a second lieutenant in the field artillery.
NYU law degree
As the war ended, he defended soldiers at individual court-martial trials in the Philippines, even though he had just a high school diploma, his son said.
After being discharged as a first lieutenant in 1946, Finz earned a bachelor of arts and a law degree from New York University. He then signed as a singer and songwriter with Music Corp. of America, his son said.
He recorded many songs under the stage name “Lennie Forrest,” and toured across the United States. He also performed with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, was a finalist for a lead role in the Hollywood remake of "The Jazz Singer,” and was cast on the NBC soap opera “Another World,” his family said.
“He always knew the right thing to say. If you had a problem he would always lead you in the right direction. You knew you could always go to him for advice," his daughter, Saundra Parker, said.
"We had a very special relationship, and he was so loved by myself and my brother and my whole family. Everyone who knew him loved him, because he was that type of person,” his daughter said.
Active in politics, Finz ran for State Senate and Congress, and was appointed Queens County campaign chairman for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He was elected the youngest New York City Civil Court judge at the time, in 1965, and later elected a New York State Supreme Court justice in 1973.
Founded law firm
After leaving the bench in 1978, he became a named partner at a law firm with his former professor. He founded the Law Offices of Leonard L. Finz in 1984, now Finz & Finz PC in Mineola. He was later joined there by Stuart.
Finz taught courses at Queens College, New York Law School and the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, according to his family. After retiring, Finz wrote four novels and became a motivational speaker.
He was officially inducted into the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame in July.
“World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 350 to 400 a day. We are a vanishing breed and within a few years we’ll be a vanished breed,” Finz said then, at a ceremony honoring him in the historic Gracewood Mansion in Manhasset.
At the time, he still worked in an advisory capacity at Finz & Finz.
In addition to his son and daughter, Finz is survived by four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of nearly 68 years, Pearl, in 2016.
A service honoring Finz will be at Gutterman’s Funeral Home, 8000 Jericho Tpke., Woodbury, on Sunday at 11 a.m.
A procession to Wellwood Cemetery in West Babylon for a burial service will immediately follow.
With Lorena Mongelli