Current Job and Type of Practice: Of counsel to the firm of Bertine, Hufnagel, et al. and of counsel to Wayne D. Esannason, village attorney of the Village of Scarsdale. The focus of my practice is municipal law.
Why I wanted to be a lawyer: My late brother, Judge George J. Gardella, urged me to become a lawyer. It took him nine years to get me to go to law school. I was happy as a newspaper reporter and editor, but eventually I decided I needed new challenges and followed my brother’s urging.
My mentors in the legal field: The late Mort Zucker and the late Judge John Holden — both were members of the City of White Plains Law Department.
A turning point in my legal career: A New Jersey recruiter contacted me about an opening as corporation counsel for the City of Rye. The taking of that position was soon followed by my assumption of the Scarsdale Village Attorney position and a legal career devoted to municipal law.
Some of my successes include: My first appeal before the Appellate Division, Second Department, not only resulted in the reversal of a murder conviction for my assigned client, but the unanimous court also dismissed the charges. Three decade long litigation battles involving land use also ended favorably. Two in Rye involved the preservation of the Jay Mansion and the building of senior citizen housing. One in Scarsdale involved the sale of land by the village. The land had been gifted to the village by the late Harry Winston, the famous jeweler.
The last thing I did to improve my skill set as a lawyer: Attending an IMLA conference in Baltimore, Maryland, in September. IMLA stands for International Municipal Lawyers Association. Attendance at such conferences broadens my contacts and exposes me to new municipal law developments.
If I were not practicing law, I would be: A struggling novelist.
People may be surprised to learn: That I became a professional writer in the Army.
What I splurge on: My baseball habit. I will travel anywhere to play first base.
The best hour of my day is: Dinnertime
Favorite movies: It’s a Wonderful Life with James Stewart; Scrooge with Alastair Sim; Tunes of Glory with Alec Guinness, and Glory with Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington.
My favorite vacation spots: Ogunquit, Maine, and Wind Whistle, South Island, New Zealand.
Three things I can’t live without: My family (which includes my wife, two sons and three grandchildren), my U.S. citizenship and liberty.
My favorite things to do in Westchester: Dining out—some of my favorites include Kraft Bistro in Bronxville, Ernesto’s in White Plains, Sam’s Gedney Tavern in White Plains and Harvest on the Hudson in Hastings—and hiking in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation with my wife.
Best advice I ever got: After my assigned client was acquitted on burglary charges following a week long trial a jury man took me aside. He told me: “you know that humble bit…get rid of it. The women don’t like it.” In my summation, I tried to be humble Abe Lincoln instead of being true to myself and expressing the certainty I felt. Another time a lawyer friend scolded me, pointing out that the trial was not about me, but about my client. I had expressed worries to him about an upcoming trial.
My advice to new lawyers: Don’t go it alone. Look for mentors and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also don’t make the second mistake. The second mistake is refusing to admit the first mistake and failing to learn from that first mistake. Finally, honesty is not just the best policy. It is the only policy.
My favorite part of being a WCBA member: Meeting and socializing with lawyers. Also the opportunity to write about the past in order to illuminate the present and suggest the future. (See Mr. Gardella’s monthly column, From the Back Bench, in the Westchester Lawyer magazine.)