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Jackie Stack, judge whose legal career began at 48, dies of coronavirus

Nassau County Judge Elaine Jackson Stack in 1998.

Nassau County Judge Elaine Jackson Stack in 1998. Credit: Newsday/Bill Davis

Elaine Jackson Stack was a mother of four who didn't begin her career outside the home — prosecutor, defense lawyer, village deputy mayor, judge — until age 48.

Stack, of Mineola and Shelter Island, died Dec. 19 at 89 of complications from COVID-19, according to her son, Ron Stack. Just before Thanksgiving, he said, his mother developed respiratory symptoms, and was later diagnosed with the coronavirus at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

Until her death, she was part of a panel that adjudicated allegations of lawyer misconduct and also was of-counsel and head of family and divorce mediation for the Garden City law firm Barket Epstein Kearon Aldea & LoTurco, capping a four-decade-long career in Long Island's legal system on the bench and at the bar.

At the Nassau County district attorney's office, where she would rise to be deputy chief of the rackets bureau, Stack prosecuted men who sodomized and made pornography of children; a light heavyweight boxer-turned-insurance fraudster and loan shark; and Colombo family underboss John "Sonny" Franzese; among others.

Then, as a defense lawyer specializing in appeals, she beat her old office by convincing the state’s highest court to overturn a client’s conviction over a barroom shooting.

Later, as a Democrat running in 1993 for a judgeship, she noted in an interview with Newsday that men dominated Long Island's slate.

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"If this year's race is any talisman of where women are today — with 12 candidates for Supreme Court, only one woman running, and only one woman sitting," she said, "that's appalling."

Stack lost that year, and ran several more times unsuccessfully.

Her son described in an email that his mom came of age in an era of different expectations for women’s roles.

"My mother grew up at a time when women could not take professional opportunities for granted. So while she certainly inspired me as a parent, she was truly inspirational to all of the women she met as a lawyer, educator and judge," said Ron Stack, a former corporate lawyer who now teaches college English.

She was elected in 1996 to Nassau’s district court. In 2000, she won election to the State Supreme Court and was assigned to the matrimonial part, where she heard divorce, property and custody cases.

Several years before becoming a judge, she was Long Island's representative to a statewide committee screening lawyers for defendants facing the death penalty before the state ended capital punishment.

She also served on the Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services, in 2005, and the Special Commission on the Future of New York State Courts. In 2007, that commission concluded that the state "has the most archaic and bizarrely convoluted court structure in the country" and "an inefficient and wasteful system that causes harm and heartache to all manner of litigants, and costs businesses, municipalities and taxpayers in excess of half a billion dollars per year."

She left the bench in 2007, after reaching 76, the state’s mandatory retirement age for judges.

Elaine Jackson, who went by Jackie, was born Oct. 27, 1931, in the South Bronx, the last of three children of the former Elsa Kamioner, a bookkeeper for New York City, and Bernard Jackson, who worked in hotel catering. Both Ashkenazi Jews, Bernard Jackson had immigrated from Poland as a child; Elsa Jackson was born in the Bronx shortly after her parents immigrated.

Raised in the South Bronx, Elaine Jackson graduated — early, at 16 — in 1947 from Manhattan’s Hunter high, which was then a girls school for the intellectually gifted. She started college at Hunter, but left before graduating when her mom had a stroke, and the younger woman went to work to support the family.

In 1951, she met her future husband, Norman Stack, on the sands of Long Beach, where her friends and his had connected. Initially skittish about dating him because she was taller than he was, she relented after one of her girl friends said: "If you don't take him I will, and you'll never forgive me," their son, Ron, recalled Sunday.

The couple married two years later, and soon after, Norman Stack was drafted into the Army. They lived in Bamberg, Germany, for two years where he was stationed, then returned to the United States, living with his parents in Jamaica Estates, Queens. The young couple later bought a house in Roslyn Heights with a veterans mortgage, and later moved to East Hills, where in the late 1980s into the mid-1990s, Elaine Jackson Stack would be trustee, deputy mayor, and member of the zoning board of appeals.

While raising her family, Stack talked over the years about wanting to return to college, her son said.

In 1971, she completed her studies, from what was then C.W. Post College of Long Island University. Stack then studied library science at the campus, graduated in 1973, and finished St. John’s University law school in 1979, a year before her youngest child graduated from high school. Stack joined the district attorney's office that year and was there until 1986.

In addition to Ron Stack of Mendham, New Jersey, she is survived by daughters Brenda Stack Freed of Arlington, Virginia, a litigation paralegal, Dede Stack Unger of Roslyn Estates, a law firm administrator, and Claudia Stack Strobing of Richmond, Virginia, a pastry chef; 15 grandchildren; and seven great grandchildren.

Stack’s husband, the numismatist Norman Stack, died in 1992. Her partner, Sanford L. Goldsmith, died in 2015. Goldsmith and Jackie Stack had been neighbors in Roslyn Heights and got closer after both their spouses died.

Stack’s funeral, Tuesday at Beth Moses Cemetery in West Babylon, will be limited to family due to restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19, and shiva, the seven-day Jewish mourning period, will be observed via Zoom.

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