[This story has been updated.]
CARMEL, N.Y. -
Putnam County Court Judge James Reitz passed away Friday morning, June 14, after suffering a massive heart attack while on the bench.
Reitz, 57, who graduated from Carmel High School and lived in Mahopac his adult life, received CPR from first responders and was transported to Putnam Hospital Center where he died.
Reitz had served as a Putnam County Court judge since 2007, and also served as an acting justice with the State Supreme Court. He was re-elected as a county judge in 2016.
He received his B.A. from Mercy College in 1986 and his J.D. from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Reitz spent 19 years as a prosecuting attorney and was elected as part-time town justice in Carmel from 1996 to 2006 before being elected to the 10-year term as a Putnam County Court judge.
As an acting State Supreme Court justice, he oversaw personal injury and wrongful death suits, matrimonial and divorce cases, and land ownership and property claims.
Reitz might be best known as overseer of the Putnam County Judicial Diversion/Treatment Court, an innovative program that provides addicts with an alternative path to incarceration. The court has proved to be a monumental success and has been emulated by several other courts across the country.
In 2015, Reitz told Mahopac News the idea behind the Diversion/Treatment Court was to treat addiction as a medical problem, not as a criminal issue, although offenders were still held accountable for their actions.
“The idea is to hold them accountable while keeping them out of jail, so they are out there paying their bills and taking care of their kids,” he said. “We are treating them with healthcare professionals. It’s far-reaching. Not too many get better when they come out of [a] jail where they are not being treated properly.”
The Putnam County drug court, in fact, was so successful it garnered the attention of NBC’s network television producers, who were putting together a five-part documentary series on drug addiction in America. Called “Hooked: America’s Heroin Epidemic,” the series featured Reitz and his drug court in two of the episodes and the piece was nominated for an Emmy.
Local attorney Joe Tock said he’s appeared before Reitz thousands of times and knew the judge both socially and professionally.
“I’ve known him since I opened my practice in 1992,” Tock said. “He was a judge who was always concerned about the parties, the attorneys and the court personnel. He was extremely dedicated to the Putnam County treatment court. Some might say he was the treatment court. This is a terrible loss for Putnam County. He was a consummate volunteer. I knew him in various capacities, and I would count him as a friend.”
School Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo said the district was “heartbroken” over the judge’s passing.
“As a Putnam County Family Court judge and a stalwart of the community, he had a profound impact on the Mahopac Central School District for many years,” DiCarlo said in a prepared statement. “He has been a mentor to many of our students, a trusted advisor to our schools, and a friend to all. Our thoughts and prayers go to Judge Reitz’s family and those whose lives he touched.”
County Executive MaryEllen Odell said the judge wasn’t like family to her, he was family.
“He touched so many lives, whether it was a veteran or a senior citizen or someone down on their luck, or the kids in the schools,” she said. “He was a pioneer for the drug treatment court that gained national recognition for the lives he saved. My heart is heavy, and I know the entire community mourns this tragic loss. I have lost a dear friend, and Putnam County has lost a dedicated public servant.”
Town Supervisor Ken Schmitt called Reitz “a judge for the people.”
“He had a tremendous amount of passion and a profound sense of justice,” Schmitt said. “He was an incredible human being and a wonderful judge. I knew him when he first got elected to Carmel town justice and I was a police officer. When we needed a judge for arraignment in the middle of the night, he would get up and come and arraign the defendant.
“This community has suffered a devastating loss,” Schmitt continued. “He will be sorely missed because with the youth court and treatment court he changed people’s lives forever. He had the ability to talk to people and helped them get back on the rails. I truly believe he saved countless lives. He loved this community and everyone in it.”
He is survived by his wife, the love of his life, Barbara; his children, Alyssa, Jaime and Michael. He is also survived by six grandchildren and his mother, Mary; his brother, David, and twin brother, Thomas, and wife, Kris; as well as his nephew, Matthew and niece, Madison. He was predeceased by his father, James. F. Reitz.
A wake was held at the Putnam County Training & Operations Center in Carmel on Monday, June 17, and was attended by hundreds of mourners who waited in line for more than two hours to get inside. People from all walks of life attended, including elected officials, law enforcement, friends, employees and people whose cases were adjudicated by Reitz, who told Mahopac News that the judge helped change their lives forever. A mass was celebrated Tuesday at St. James the Apostle Church in Carmel.