John P. Comerford ’95 was approaching a milestone in his legal career—25 years in practice, now as a partner with the Buffalo firm Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford LLC.
It’s an occasion to celebrate, and, he says, “I really wanted to give something back to UB.” But he also wanted to pay tribute to his friend and mentor, retired state Supreme Court justice Timothy J. Drury ’67.
The result: a major gift to UB School of Law that will help current students grow their legal advocacy skills by taking part in nationwide competitions. The gift endows the newly established Hon. Timothy J. Drury ’67 Trial Advocacy Fund, and its continuing income will pay for travel, accommodations and other expenses for the law school’s trial competition teams, a key component of the Advocacy Institute.
“The establishment of this new fund will ensure that our students continue to participate in high quality trial competitions in the years to come,” says Anthony O’Rourke, Joseph W. Belluck and Laura L. Aswad Professor of Civil Justice and director of the law school’s Advocacy Institute. “It is also an important step toward ensuring that the Advocacy Institute remains a vibrant and self-sustaining entity. We are humbled to be the recipient of this generous gift in honor of Judge Drury.”
Comerford says he and his wife, Hope, made the gift to honor a friendship that began between neighbors. They moved to the Buffalo suburb of Snyder at a time when their five children were very young, and Comerford says the kids used to play in the sheltered space of a nearby cul-de-sac. Drury, then an Erie County Court judge, would come out to chat with their father, and a lifelong bond was formed.
“He became very close with my family,” Comerford says. “He loves lawyers and loves their families. He really wants to get to know you and create a relationship with you. He’s such a humble guy, I wanted to spend time bragging about him.”
Comerford notes that the judge, who played football for Canisius High School in his youth, used to keep tabs on the children of the lawyers he knew, sometimes even stopping by to watch their games. It’s the kind of personal connection that made him a natural candidate when running for a seat on the bench. Comerford tells of accompanying Drury when campaigning—shaking hands at the Niagara County Peach Festival or Firemen’s Field Day in Youngstown. “He’s such a gregarious person,” Comerford says. “He loves people, and he loves to campaign.”
In supporting the law school’s trial teams, Comerford is acknowledging the judge’s love of the trial process. A top homicide prosecutor in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office in the early part of his career, Drury was elected to Buffalo City Court in 1979, then to Erie County Court in 1987 before becoming a New York State Supreme Court justice in 2007. He retired from the bench in 2016.
“He loves old-fashioned, roll-your-sleeves-up advocacy,” Comerford says. “I wanted to recognize who he is and what he stands for. My dad used to say that you should live your life by the grace of daily obligations, and that’s Judge Drury.”
Looking back on his career, Drury has fond memories of his time as an assistant district attorney and the challenges of arguing a case. “I loved trial work,” he says. “I wasn’t a great law student as far as techniques go, and it took me a while to get to be a trial lawyer.”
When he was in law school, trial competitions were scarce. But he learned from the lions of the Western New York bar—he rattles off their names with admiration—by watching them work and carried that appreciation for skillful advocacy into his many years on the bench.
Comerford’s gift in his honor, he says, further strengthens a school that has made so many legal careers possible. “I’m humbled by this gesture, and it came out of the blue,” the judge says. “I know John is doing this out of the fullness of his heart, and to acknowledge what UB has done for him and his wife and people he knows. UB is just a wonderful institution.”
My dad used to say that you should live your life by the grace of daily obligations, and that’s Judge Drury." – John P. Comerford '95