Mourning the passing of a legendary Syracuse defense attorney: Matt's Memo

Jim, Terri and Peter McGraw.

A shock wave swept through the Syracuse legal community this afternoon as word spread that criminal defense attorney Jim McGraw had collapsed and died in a Watertown court room. Phone calls, texts, e-mails and social media spread the news like wildfire. Jim McGraw was universally regarded.

I reached his wife Terri McGraw this afternoon to offer condolences and gather her reflections on her husband. "He was an amazing guy. Great husband and father," said Terri McGraw. "He had the biggest heart of anyone I know. He did not become a defense attorney for money he did it for justice."

Jim McGraw represented legendary Syracuse Mayor Lee Alexander against federal charges of corruption. He also represented Cynthia Pugh who killed Manlius business man James Pipines. He was the attorney for Roy Brown who was wrongly convicted of murdering Sabina Kulakowski in Cayuga County. Brown spent 15 years in prison. McGraw stuck with him and ultimately helped earn his release.

Attorney Ed Menkin talked during our early evening news about his longtime friend and fellow member of the bar. Menkin fondly remembered McGraw for being a great guy, but he also would take time to watch Jim McGraw at work in a courtroom. Menkin recently sat in on a cross examination by McGraw where he tore apart the ever changing story of the witness.

McGraw's passing has me wondering whether there will be another elite group of criminal attorneys in Syracuse that rival McGraw or Menkin or Emil Rossi. Surely highly capable attorneys are walking the halls of courthouses across Central New York. But their public profile does not loom as large most likely because of the changing face of media and reporting.

For now a public memorial is being planned at the Onondaga County Courthouse. Courthouse security best be prepared for an overflow crowd that will turn out to remember Jim McGraw.


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