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Hon. Nicholas Tsoucalas '51 Celebrates 52 Years as Bar Member and 38 Years on Bench

Hon. Nicholas Tsoucalas '51, senior judge of the United States Court of International Trade, celebrates 52 years as a member of the bar this year and 38 years on the bench. In 2006, Judge Tsoucalas also marks his 20th year with the Court of International Trade. These anniversaries have a certain irony to them because in recalling his career, Judge Tsoucalas noted that, “I never wanted to be a lawyer.”

A native of New York City, Judge Tsoucalas entered New York Law School with the idea of pursuing a career in business. In 1944, he entered the Navy. Judge Tsoucalas was discharged in 1946 and re-entered the Navy in 1951. He then was offered a commission as a legal officer and turned it down, but when two sailors on his ship were arrested, the judge agreed to assist in their defense.

“I helped represent them and we won the case,” Judge Tsoucalas said. “I felt good when I helped them our so then I decided maybe I will practice law.”

Today, Judge Tsoucalas says, “It is my love of the law that keeps me on the bench. I could make a hell of a lot more money on the outside.”

Of course, Judge Tsoucalas has seen many changes through the past 50 years.

“The biggest change is that sentencing now requires judges to follow mandatory guidelines,” Judge Tsoucalas explained. “Maybe before some judges were too harsh and some were too lenient, but mandatory guidelines remove a lot of a judge’s leeway. Sometimes a person just happens to be there when a crime is committed but that person gets the same sentence. I am a very stiff sentencer when it comes to heinous crimes, but sometimes the facts are such that the crime may not be that heinous. I can give a lesser sentence but it still has to be in the guidelines. Sentencing guidelines are something that I think should be advisory not mandatory.”

Judge Tsoucalas noted that a lot of members of his class at New York Law School went on to become judges, and he is still in touch with many of them. Judge Tsoucalas also said he had no plans to retire from his lifetime appointment.

“I’m not going to leave,” he said. “I’ll be here until I drop. After all, I got a life sentence.”