For more than five decades, defense attorney Peter T. Affatato was a fixture in the state Supreme Court in Mineola. Until well into his 80s, he could be seen regularly in the hallways of the building, a yellow legal pad his only accompaniment.
Affatato garnered such high respect from his colleagues and court personnel that he earned the nickname “dean of the trial lawyers.” A painting of him has adorned a wall of the attorneys’ lounge in the courthouse for two decades. Until recently, it was the only portrait in the room.
“He was such a prominent, powerful presence here,” said Daniel Bagnuola, director of the state Supreme Court’s Office of Community Relations and a friend of Affatato. “Physically he wasn’t a big man, but he was a giant here. Everyone knew him.”
Affatato, a longtime Massapequa Park resident, died of complications of heart disease on Aug. 31 in a nursing facility in Daytona Beach, Florida. He was 92.
Born and reared in Brooklyn, Affatato went on to attend St. John’s University, first studying accounting before pursuing law and earning his juris doctor degree in 1949.
He interrupted his college years during World War II to serve in what would become the Air Force and was stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines . After returning to school and graduating, he was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, leaving the service with the rank of captain.
Affatato and his wife, Irene, whom he met in college and married in 1948, moved first to Astoria, Queens, next to Plainedge in 1953, and then to Massapequa Park in 1968, raising two daughters along the way.
He opened a private practice in Hicksville, and in those early years he was the neighborhood lawyer, offering his services free of charge, said daughter Irene Burkhard of Becket, Massachusetts.
Affatato was big-hearted at home as well. Each year on Valentine’s Day, he gave gifts not only to his wife but also to his daughters. When Burkhard mentioned she wanted a chess set, he immediately ran out and got one for her. On weekends, they would play catch in front of their home.
“He was the most generous person, both with his time and his money,” she said.
Affatato served as president of the Nassau County Bar Association from 1985 to 1986 and was made a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1977.
He was appointed to the grievance committee for the 10th Judicial District, which dealt with grievances against attorneys. He also was appointed to the committee on character and fitness for the Second Department of the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court. Affatato spent decades on the committee, which interviews applicants for the bar.
“He played a big role with every young lawyer in this county,” said longtime friend and fellow attorney Christopher McGrath, who called Affatato a mentor.
“Early on, he said to me, ‘You only have one reputation and you should never do anything to tarnish that reputation,’ ” McGrath said. “He said, ‘If anyone ever tells you to do something wrong, you don’t do it, no matter what the consequences.’ ” It’s advice McGrath passes on to young lawyers today.
In 1994, Affatato was honored with the county bar association’s most prestigious award, the Distinguished Service Medallion. In 2004, McGrath started the Peter T. Affatato Court Employee of the Year Award, which honors court personnel.
He was a founder in 1954 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Lodge 1931, in Levittown and went on to become president of the New York State Elks Association in 1965. He was unanimously elected national president of the organization in 1986.
In addition, Affatato served for 14 years on the Island Trees school district’s board of education, including a stint as president. He briefly served as chairman of the board of trustees of Briarcliffe College.
In his little spare time, Affatato loved baseball, musical comedies, boating on the Great South Bay and reading mysteries, Burkhard said.
In addition to Burkhard, he is survived by his wife, Irene, and daughter Anne Affatato, both of Vero Beach, Florida; brother Michael Affatato of Ormond Beach, Florida; and several nieces and nephews, including Joseph Quinto of Massapequa.
Burial was in Cape Canaveral National Cemetery in Mims, Florida.