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Retired Suffolk County Family Court Judge Barbara Kahn dies

Kahn, who was first elected a District Court judge in Suffolk in 1996, presided over many of the county's most well-known cases.

Judge Barbara Kahn at court in Riverhead on

Judge Barbara Kahn at court in Riverhead on March 19, 2014. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Retired Suffolk County Family Court Judge Barbara Kahn, who presided over many high-profile criminal cases, died Thursday morning, a judicial official said.

Kahn, 71, of Lloyd Harbor, who served on the bench in Suffolk from 1996 through 2018, when she reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, was considered a thoughtful and even-tempered jurist, well respected by all sectors of the county judicial system.

"Barbara Kahn was, in every sense, an incredible judge, both in demeanor, temperament and work ethic," Suffolk Administrative Judge C. Randall Hinrichs said. "She was truly outstanding in every respect and was beloved by everyone in the court family. This is just an incredible loss for all of us."

Saul Fenchel, Kahn's husband, declined to comment about the cause of death.

"All I want to say is that she was a wonderful person and a fantastic judge," said Fenchel, a Garden City property tax attorney.

The couple had one child, Sara Fenchel, 39, who lives in Portland, Oregon.

A graduate of Queens College and Boston University School of Law, Kahn was first elected a District Court judge in Huntington in 1995, winning the seat in a major upset. 

Kahn, a Democrat who was often cross-endorsed by the Conservative Party, held that post until 2004, when she was elected a County Court judge. At the time, Kahn also helped start the Felony Sex Offender courtroom in Riverhead, and presided over the court for 11 years. In 2015, Kahn was elected a Family Court judge while also serving as an acting Supreme Court justice.

"She had such an absolutely true sense of justice," Hinrichs said. "She was incredibly fair-minded."

Before being elected to the bench, Kahn worked as an associate court attorney in Queens Supreme Court.

Dari Schwartz, chief of the Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Bureau in the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office, called Kahn an "even-handed and exercised justice tempered with mercy. She did this with humor along the way. Upon her retirement, not only did judges, staff, court personnel, defense counsels and prosecutors wish her well, but so did numerous defendants. She left a positive imprint on many lives that she touched and she will be sorely missed."

Kahn presided over many of Suffolk's most well-known cases, including that of a Ridge man found not guilty of abusing six foster children; of a Manhattan investment banker acquitted of raping an Irish tourist at an East Hampton house he was renting and of a Hauppauge teen who admitted killing and nearly decapitating his stepfather with a samurai sword. 

Arguably Kahn's  best-known case involved John White, a black Miller Place man convicted of fatally shooting  Daniel Cicciaro Jr., a white Selden teenager, during a confrontation in his driveway in 2006. The racially charged case, which gained national attention, began when Cicciaro and his friends went to White's home in search of his son, Aaron, whom they mistakenly believed had threatened to rape a girl at a party they attended that night.

White was convicted of second-degree manslaughter. Gov. David Patterson commuted his sentence after White had served 5 months in an upstate prison.

Bryan Browns, trial director at the Suffolk Legal Aid Society, called Kahn "every lawyer's dream" and a "gift to the county's legal community" because of her knowledge and fairness.

"In all my years I never heard one complaint about Judge Kahn," Browns said. "She was always thoughtful about everything; the client, the legal issues. She never made a decision out of thin air. It was always objective."

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