Sitting on the bench before a crowded room 280 at Nassau County District Court on a Friday morning, Judge Scott Fairgrieve listens carefully, chin in hand, to the cases that come before him.
He sends some of his 55 cases slated for the day to mediation in room 277, requests language interpreters for others whose English isn’t strong and adjourns one for Dec. 7, National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
“You remember Pearl Harbor Day? I remember Gettysburg,” Fairgrieve said, evoking a laugh from the courtroom. “It’s important to have a sense of humor, too.”
Fairgrieve, who turns 68 in December, has had plenty of time on the bench to accrue that sense of humor. First elected in 2000, he recently won his campaign for re-election as Nassau County 3rd District Court judge, defeating Tomasina Cuda Mastroianni by a margin of 15,000 votes. This is his fourth term as judge, but he will only serve the next two years of his term.
“I’ll age out,” Fairgrieve said. The state’s constitutional limit for county, district, family and surrogate judges is 70 years old. “But it feels good and I’ve loved my job,” he said.
Fairgrieve has remained involved in his community throughout his career, and is a member of the board of both the Mineola Historical Society and the Greater Long Island Running Club. He served as a Mineola village trustee from 1982 to 1994. He is well known in the court and community for his invitation to people, young and old alike, to sit with him at the bench.
“I want people to see what’s going on,” Fairgrieve said. Hundreds of people have sat with him as he has heard cases and handed out decisions over his tenure, he said.
In addition to those who flock around him at the front of the courtroom from time to time, Fairgrieve has had over 30 interns and shadows, some of whom he has allowed to help him write case decisions, a huge career opportunity for those interested in law.
An issue Fairgrieve holds close to his heart is the danger of underage drinking and how it affects the lives of those involved.
On Nov. 19, Fairgrieve used a vacation day so he could speak at Sewanhaka High School about drunken driving, hit-and-run accidents and texting while driving.
“You talk to students and you get scared,” Fairgrieve said. “They think they’ll get in trouble for drinking so they’ll just leave.” He speaks to students on the morality of these dangers, often in small groups to better connect with them.
“To see a life ruined is not a good thing,” Fairgrieve said. “Life is so precious, and you see so many people screw up their lives by doing stupid stuff.”
Fairgrieve mostly handles civil cases, complex issues often involving irrevocable trust, property damage and landlord-tenant issues. His decisions are frequently picked up and reported by law journals.
“I take the time and write it,” Fairgrieve said. “Once I get into something, I get into it, and I spend a lot of time on the subject to make sure it’s right.”
On impartiality over the years and particularly in today’s political climate, he said he keeps an open mind every day walking into work.
“I deal with very complicated situations,” Fairgrieve said. “I have no idea who is coming in or what is going on and there’s all types of crazy cases.
“To be impartial you try to give everybody their shot; everybody needs a chance to voice their point of view.”
Fairgrieve is unsure what retirement will hold come 2020, but knows for sure that his interest in charitable work will only grow, possibly doing volunteer legal work for tenants in civil cases who don’t have enough money for representation otherwise.
“I’ll always be involved,” he said.