Judge Robert Onofry Retires After Nearly 30 Years of Service

By Cara Ding
Cara Ding
Cara Ding
Cara is an Orange County, New York-based Epoch Times reporter. She can be reached at cara.ding@epochtimes.com
February 8, 2023Updated: February 8, 2023

Recently retired Orange County Supreme Court Justice Robert Onofry gathered many firsts in his life.

He was the first city court judge in the county to establish a domestic violence victim advocacy program, the first Port Jervis native to be elected to a countywide judgeship, and the first judge to issue an opinion interpreting the regulatory powers invested by the state’s 2019 climate law.

Always exuding patience, fairness, and respect in the courtroom, he is regarded by many in the legal profession and the broader community as a classic gentleman.

“I have always had a basic belief—not only when I was in private practice but during my time on the bench—you are there to serve people, and you are there to treat everyone fairly, equally, and respectfully,” Onofry told The Epoch Times at his Port Jervis home on Feb. 1.

Epoch Times Photo
Robert Onofry at his home in Port Jervis, N.Y., on Feb. 1, 2023. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

His gentlemanly manners did not slow him down; instead, he was so effective at dispensing his caseloads that presiding justices kept asking him to take on extra responsibilities.

As he traveled to Goshen, Westchester, and Long Island for his judicial duties, Onofry would always return to his Port Jervis home, where he plans to spend his retirement years, too.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have been born and raised in Port Jervis with its sense of community,” he said. “It instilled in me a firmly entrenched work ethic and a view that everyone is entitled to respect regardless of their background or income.

“It is and has always been my home.”

In 1975, shortly after Onofry graduated from law school, Sam Cuddeback, who ran the oldest and most respected law firm in Port Jervis, sent him an invitation.

There, Onofry built a blossoming practice, adding on services and eventually becoming a partner.

Epoch Times Photo
Port Jervis Little League fields on Feb. 6, 2023. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

Meanwhile, he was active on the school board as a member and later the president; he also provided pro bono services to various community organizations, including the Port Jervis Little League.

In the 1980s, the former Erie Railway was in the legal process of liquidating assets following bankruptcy, including parcels of land that Little League had used with permission as ball fields for years.

Onofry spent a year working through the bankruptcy court and helped Little League retrieve the land before it got sold to a developer.

City Court Years

In 1996, Onofry was elected a city court judge in Port Jervis, a part-time post where he could stay for 12 years presiding over low-level criminal cases and small-claim civil cases.

Once, he remanded a husband who severely beat his wife to jail. A day later, the wife came back to the court, questioning his decision and arguing for her husband’s release.

“I was in disbelief. There was a mindset that this was acceptable,” he said. “I didn’t find it acceptable.”

That case served as a catalyst for the first-in-the-county advocacy program for domestic violence victims in partnership with Safer Homes, which is now called Fearless.

The program boosted the number of victims staying through the criminal proceedings and testifying at the trials; the enhanced victim participation also helped induce guilty pleas from defendants.

Epoch Times Photo
The Municipal Building of Port Jervis, N.Y., which houses the City Court, on Sept. 5, 2022. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

Onofry also established a drug court where people committing low-level crimes out of drug addictions could get a second chance.

One out of three participants in his drug court was able to successfully complete the 18-month addiction recovery program and got their related criminal records expunged, he said.

While running a private practice and serving as a city judge in Port Jervis, Onofry was also assigned by the presiding justice to Middletown and Newburgh courts to help ease their workload.

“I like to think that they asked me to take on the additional work because of the manner in which I discharged my basic responsibilities to the City of Port Jervis,” he said. “I always had a basic work ethic that it is my job to get into the office before the staff comes and leave after the staff leaves.

“I was fortunate to have a good staff, and we shared the basic philosophy: whatever you need to do to get the job done, that’s what you are supposed to do. Overtime doesn’t exist, at least not in my case.”

Epoch Times Photo
Pictures of Robert Onofry’s family members at his home in Port Jervis, N.Y., on Feb. 1, 2023. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

Even with all the work, he always made time for his four children.

“I consider one of my greatest accomplishments during that time is that I never missed a school function,” he said. “If they interfered with [my work], then I just had to find a different time to get it done.”

Onofry Goes to County

In 2008—most of his children were out of college by then—Onofry launched a campaign for the county’s surrogate judge, a post primarily responsible for probate and estate cases.

At the time, no one from Port Jervis—a small border city on the western edge of the county with a high level of low-income residents—was ever elected to a countywide judgeship.

Almost everyone in the city and surrounding communities united behind his campaign regardless of party affiliations; the local Democratic committee also crossed the line to endorse the Republican candidate.

It happened to be the year when Barack Obama drew a historic turnout nationwide for his presidential campaign, so residents rooting for Obama would vote for Onofry on the same ballot.

“The community as a whole got behind me, and we produced votes that had not come out of the western end of the county in a very long time,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
The view of downtown Port Jervis at Elks-Brox Memorial Park in Port Jervis, N.Y., on Oct. 9, 2022. The Mid-Delaware Bridge connects Pennsylvania and New York. (Chung I Ho/The Epoch Times)

Shortly after winning the election, Onofry was asked to be an acting Supreme Court Judge for the 9th Judicial District (which encompasses Orange County) in addition to his role as a surrogate judge.

That not only added another 800 or so cases to his existing caseload of roughly 3,500 each year but also demanded new skills.

“It was a baptism under fire. I remember lots of long days and nights and weekends in the first year learning the craft, one trial after another,” he said. “Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of developing my skills.”

A memorable case was about a nursing assistant who was both criminally and civilly charged for allegedly causing burns on a disabled child after administering a hot bath.

The defendant pleaded guilty to the criminal charges while maintaining that she only did so to avoid lengthy sentences and that she had no knowledge of the cause of the burns.

On the eve of the trial for the civil case, however, a lab report was received. It concluded that the burns were not caused by hot water but mere allergic reactions to certain medications.

Epoch Times Photo
Judge Robert Onofry (Courtesy of Robert Onofry)

During the trial, Onofry, out of fairness, opted to give the defense side significant latitude in cross-examining the plaintiff side’s testimonies in light of the new report.

The trial took almost a month, and the jury came back in less than two hours with a non-guilty verdict.

Years later, the nursing assistant’s criminal conviction was vacated.

Aside from the above duties, Onofry also served as acting surrogate judge in Westchester County for three years and as acting Supreme Court judge in Nassau County for a year.

The latter had to do with a troubled case involving a multi-million-dollar charitable foundation in Long Island, which had been pending for about five years with no immediate resolution in sight.

Onofry came in and concluded the case in a year.

Gubernatorial Appointment

That case was instrumental in getting Onofry appointed as Supreme Court judge by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June 2019, he said.

“There were a lot of people who were shocked that a registered Republican would get an appointment from a Democratic governor, so I consider myself very fortunate.”

In the same year, the Danskammer Energy company, which operates a natural gas-fired power plant in the Town of Newburgh, applied to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for a permit to construct a new plant on site.

DEC denied the application based on the newly enacted Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which empowers state agencies to consider carbon emissions when issuing permits.

CLCPA also sets a goal for the state to produce 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.

Epoch Times Photo
The cover page of Robert Onofry’s decision on the Danskammer case at his home in Port Jervis, N.Y., on Feb. 1, 2023. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

Danskammer filed a lawsuit to challenge the denial, and the case was assigned to Onofry.

Given the significance of the case—deemed by many as the first legal test of the 2019 climate law—amicus curiae briefs were filed by prominent organizations on both sides of the climate debate.

Onofry said it was the most time-consuming case he had ever had as a judge. After he got through all the materials and motions and finally inked the draft opinion, he took another two weeks to refine it.

His ruling upheld the denial by DEC. As of now, his decision has not been appealed.


Over the years, Onofry gathered many awards along his legal journey, including the Rose S. Rosen Award, the John S. McBride Lifetime Achievement, and awards from the Orange County Bar Association and Women’s Bar Association of Orange and Sullivan Counties.

He was also awarded for his school, charitable, and philanthropic work, including being recognized for 25 years of outstanding public service by the Port Jervis School District and a Karen Minogue Award for Distinguished Service by the Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan.

He felt good to have left the arena at the top of his game. His last court day was Jan. 30.

“I’m certainly a much better judge now—or as of last week—than I was ten years ago,” he said. “I did not want to leave when people would be glad that I was leaving because I wasn’t effective anymore.”

Plus, he and his wife are still in good shape for cross-country skiing, hiking, and kayaking.

Aside from the Port Jervis home, they also own a second home in the Adirondacks, where he also plans to spend time after retirement.