Riding into the Sunset: Tributes to the Life and Legacy of Judge Gary L. Sharpe

Published: April 10, 2024

Judge SharpeJudges and lawyers reflect on the life and legacy of United States District Judge Gary L. Sharpe, who died on February 12, 2024.

Chief United States District Judge Brenda K. Sannes

Gary L. Sharpe, a beloved colleague on the Northern District bench, passed away on February 12, 2024. He was 77 years old.

Judge Sharpe’s life was dedicated to public service. He was a brilliant jurist, who consistently distilled legal and factual issues with breath-taking clarity. Whether as an esteemed prosecutor or revered judge, his bedrock principles of integrity, fairness, and compassion were evident in every case he prosecuted and in every judgment he rendered from the bench. I will never forget how Judge Sharpe spoke to defendants during sentencings, with compassion and empathy, in down-to-earth language, designed to be understood, to explain his sentence and provide thoughtful guidance.

Judge Sharpe wisely led the Northern District of New York during his tenure as Chief Judge from December 2011 to August 2015. During that time he made remarkable achievements in the Court’s administration – cataloguing and memorializing the District’s policies and procedures. As a senior judge he was an invaluable mentor to his fellow judges, and he gave his time generously. I am particularly grateful for Judge Sharpe’s consistently insightful advice.

One of Judge Sharpe’s defining passions was his admiration for John Wayne, whose iconic roles embodied the virtues of courage, honor, and determination. Visitors to Judge Sharpe’s chambers were greeted with a life-size poster of the actor which Judge Sharpe proudly hung himself on the solid mahogany door with drywall screws. Like his cinematic hero, Judge Sharpe approached life’s challenges with a steely resolve and an unwavering commitment to principle.

In the words of John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” Judge Sharpe embodied this saying: he lived a life defined by courage, compassion, and unwavering dedication to serving others. We will miss his brilliance, his wonderful zest for life and for the law and his infectious sense of humor.

In tribute to Judge Sharpe, we offer our deepest sympathies to his family and friends and our sincere gratitude for his many years of dedicated service to the citizens of the Northern District of New York. May he rest in peace.

United States District Judge Mae A. D’Agostino

I will always remember Judge Sharpe for his intelligence, commitment to justice, and his tremendous work ethic. When he presided over a case, he had an uncanny ability to make complex issues understandable for the jurors. I think he knew the cases that were being tried before him as well as, if not better than, the attorneys who were actually trying the cases.

More than anything, though, Judge Sharpe was a man of integrity and unparalleled honesty. He was someone who was not afraid to speak the unvarnished truth, even if the truth was a bit uncomfortable. He was simply unwilling to compromise his sense of justice for anyone or anything.

Not to be lost in recognizing him for his intelligence, worth ethic and honesty, was Judge Sharpe’s absolutely arid sense of humor. He had a full-bodied laugh, and always appreciated a good joke.

Judge Sharpe was a colleague I admired. I learned by watching him, and by asking him countless questions, which he answered with great attention to detail. With his passing, our Court has lost a man who gave deep meaning to the words “public service.” His wisdom and contributions to our justice system will live on.

Senior United States District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn

I was always proud to be a colleague of Gary Sharpe. He was a compassionate and respected jurist who cared deeply about all who appeared before him. His love for his family was deeply admired as was his love for the law.

United States Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles (Recalled)

The Northern District of New York lost yet another treasured jurist with the recent, untimely passing of the Hon. Gary Lawrence Sharpe. When I became a magistrate judge in 2000, Gary, who was then also a magistrate judge working in Syracuse, quickly became my friend and mentor. I found him to be intelligent, hard-working, fair, patient, and compassionate. Gary valued transparency and believed it was a necessity to ensuring confidence in the judiciary. As a person, Gary was deeply devoted to his wife Lorraine and his family. Together with the two of them I enjoyed many adventures. We laughed (and boy could he laugh), took trips together to the wineries of the Finger Lakes, I introduced him to oyster shooters in San Diego, and we travelled ill-advisedly to Mexico. I also witnessed him struggle through more serious times, including following the loss of a grandson. I will miss him. Rest in peace my friend.

Federal Public Defender Lisa Peebles

Judge Sharpe was larger than life. His passing was shocking and devasting news. It was just a few months ago that I was reminiscing with him about our ridiculous trip to Tijuana with his wife, Lorraine, and Judge Peebles when they were attending a magistrate judges conference in San Diego. He would often retell the story by referring to Lorraine and me as a——-s! We often turned it around and blamed the two judges for not being able to talk us out of the crazy idea. I will always cherish the fond memories I have with all the shenanigans we got into with Judge Sharpe and Lorraine on wine tours and conferences.

Professionally, I will always appreciate Judge Sharpe’s honesty and straightforwardness. He told it like he saw it. He was a remarkably fair prosecutor, and I appreciated his candor, especially my being a young, know-nothing defense lawyer. He was equally a fair-minded, transparent judge. I will never forget his support for me when I applied for the Federal Public Defender position.
More than anything, I will miss his belly laugh. It filled a room.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe

Anyone who walked into Judge Sharpe’s courtroom immediately sensed that he loved being a judge. With his legendary courtroom presence, he was a natural on the bench projecting a sense of ease even when he was confronting difficult issues and challenging litigants. I consider myself lucky that I appeared in front of him frequently.

He held himself to incredibly high standards in every single case, and he pushed me to do my best work when I appeared before him. Like everyone, I was particularly impressed with his remarkable intellect, unwavering integrity, and his steady common sense. I will remember him on the bench capably distilling a thorny legal issue to a tough question and, of course, the unforgettable sound of his booming signature laugh.

Career Law Clerk Benjamin L. Loefke

I had the good fortune of being selected by Judge Sharpe for a term clerkship in late 2011. When I accepted his offer, I expected to work with Judge Sharpe for a couple of years and then move on to something new. It would be a relatively quick stop on my career journey, or so I thought. I began with him on January 2 the next year and remained on his staff until his passing in February. I served him as the Chief Judge and then as he transitioned back to District Judge and, eventually, Senior District Judge. I was present for and worked on some of the most interesting and challenging cases in the District during that time, all while having the significant benefit of Judge Sharpe’s insights and guidance.

There are many reasons why I never left — they would take too long to explain here — but there is really only one that matters: Judge Sharpe was one of the finest people and mentors I have ever known. I quickly learned that he was different and, if you knew him, you know what I mean. I had been around enough judges in a prior clerkship (and have been around many more since) to know that he was cut from a different cloth. He was an intellectual titan with steel trap memory, yet had the common touch and an unmatched sense of humor. He was a normal person too. He loved his family deeply (along with Jim Brown, Mickey Mantle, and John Wayne), and, luckily for me, he treated me like family.

His fifty years of public service, twenty four of them a state and federal prosecutor and the balance as a magistrate and district court judge, were served with the highest distinction. His guiding principles of fairness, integrity, and compassion never wavered. And the impact of his loss to the Northern District is impossible to calculate. I miss him dearly, but I take great comfort in knowing how much time — really good, quality time — I got to spend learning from and laughing with him. As I heard him say many times, “We keep those we love alive by the stories we tell about them.” For my part, I will continue to tell Judge Sharpe’s stories to anyone who will listen.

Julie Nociolo, Partner, E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy LLP

I’m lucky to have been one of Judge Sharpe’s many law clerks. As many former clerks will say about their Judge, he or she shaped their legal career. Judge Sharpe was no different, but he was more than that. He held himself to a high standard that we law clerks took pains to emulate. He was demanding of all practitioners not for the sake of being difficult, but to achieve justice for the parties and the public. If you met Judge Sharpe outside of the courtroom you may be surprised to learn he was a federal judge; I can only imagine he liked it that way. No matter how someone met Judge Sharpe whether as a criminal defendant, a pro se litigant, a green or seasoned lawyer, or on the golf course in South Carolina, I know he exuded the trait he held most dear: integrity. We will miss you, sir.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Belliss

It was a pleasure to practice before Judge Sharpe. He was always professional, thoughtful, and respectful with counsel, defendants, witnesses, jury members, and courthouse staff. He was also predictable, in a good way. Moreover, he had a keen ability to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, the arguments of counsel, and the remorse, or lack thereof, of a defendant. I will miss his booming voice, the way in which he controlled and managed his courtroom and counsel, and how he liked to give some good-natured ribbing to counsel and the Judges on the Circuit.


Group of people

At a ceremony on March 1, 2024, Judge Sharpe’s law clerks and courtroom deputy gathered for a group photo in front of the John Wayne poster that Judge Sharpe displayed in his chambers.