From one court to another U.S. District judge lauds lessons learned on high school hardwood

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It taught him discipline, perseverance and that a little hard work does pay off.

U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd was quite the young athlete, participating on his high school football, baseball and basketball teams. It was the lessons learned as an athlete that he was able to carry with him into a long-standing career in law.

Earlier this month, Hurd was one of six alumni named as a 2016 inductee into the Camillus/West Genesee Sports Hall of Fame. He was recognized at the ninth annual Hall of Fame Ceremony on Nov. 5.

Hurd explained that the school district has a special committee whose members have nominated candidates for the hall over the last 9-10 years. The judge said he was quite surprised and honored when he received the phone call about his nomination this year. But that wasn’t the only surprise he received at the ceremony.

“It was also a surprise that all my kids and grandkids showed up at the ceremony,” Hurd said. “I got to share the evening with five others who were also recognized, and about 100 people were in attendance. My four kids and two grandkids, and my daughter-in-law and sons-in-law, were all there with me when I received my award.”

Hurd graduated from Camillus High School in 1955. During his tenure, he was a four-year starter for all three teams — football, baseball and basketball. He also served as team captain for all three teams during his senior year.

The athlete was named “All-County,” and graduated third in his class of 25.

Hurd received his bachelor’s of science degree from Cornell University in 1959, after transferring from Syracuse University. He had actually gone to S.U. on a football scholarship.

“I played freshman football and I realized I really wasn’t good enough to play,” Hurd laughed. He then chose to attend Cornell.

However, Hurd would receive his juris doctor degree from the S.U. College of Law and graduate cum laude, Order of the Coif, in 1963.

He married Connie Lehman in 1962, and the couple moved to Rome in 1969, where they continue to live in the same house. They have four children, Kristine, Jeffrey, Steven and Melissa, and two grandchildren, Shaun and Chance.

From 1963-1991, Hurd served as a criminal and civil trial lawyer, during which he became a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He served as a magistrate judge from 1991-99 for the Northern District of New York, and became a U.S. District judge in 1999, where he remains on the bench today at the U.S. District Courthouse in Utica.

In 1992, Judge Hurd issued a decision which directed Colgate University to give varsity status to the Women’s Ice Hockey Club team, pursuant of Title IX.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: 

“No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Hurd’s decision was one of the first cases under Title IX and created nationwide interest. A few years later, the women’s Olympic gold medal ice hockey team personally thanked the judge with an autographed photograph. The 1998 Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament was the first year that featured women in ice hockey competition.

The team “sent me an autographed picture and a little note thanking me for my decision and for getting women’s ice hockey off the ground so to speak,” Hurd said.

The judge admits his athletic career didn’t move much farther beyond high school. During college, he did play intramurals and won a few championships, he said.

But the lessons he learned as a young athlete Hurd said he was able to carry with him throughout his successful career.

Participating in sports — “It gives you confidence and I was always a leader and captain of my teams, even in intramurals, which gives you leadership qualities. I carried that right over to law school and onto when I became a trial lawyer,” Hurd said.

And despite his love for sports, Hurd said he doesn’t regret his decision to devote his life to law rather than play time.

“When I went to law school at Syracuse, my first class was criminal law with Frank Miller and that first class I will never forget,” the judge said. “After the first five minutes, I decided this is what I wanted to do with my life. And I’m sure my previous athletic efforts gave me the confidence to go that way.”

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