EDWARD J. MEEGAN
A DISTINGUISHED, representative man of Albany – an accomplished lawyer and a leader in politics – is Edward J. Meegan. The study of his life is full of interest and profit to the young men of our time, whose chief aim should be to cultivate manly qualities, industrious habits, and whatever tends to make useful and influential citizens. On the 28th of September, 1846, in the city of Albany he first saw the light. His parents were natives of Ireland, whence they emigrated to this country in the year 1824. After living some two years in Boston, Mass., they found their way to Albany. Much pleased with the appearance and location of this city they made it their permanent residence, becoming useful, hard-working, and highly-respected citizens. Discovering a strong love of learning in their son Edward, they early sent him to St. Joseph’s parish school, where he became a close, diligent and successful student, mastering the elementary principles of a general education. There seems to have been no hesitancy in his choice of a profession – that of a lawyer being early indicated and firmly adhered to. But on account of the limited pecuniary means of his parents, young Meegan was obliged to rely greatly on himself for the successful prosecution and completion of his literary and professional studies. He had scarcely reached the age of thirteen when he became a law student in the office of Edwards & Sturtevant, then a well-known law firm of this city. He was now in his proper element, beginning to realize the dreams of his youth, and evincing by his tastes and studious application that the law was to be the grand arena in which he was to fight the battle of life. He was indeed a born lawyer. The study of the legal profession was to him no drudgery; he explored its mines of wealth with remarkable quickness and high gratification; and even the more dry details of the science were for him invested with all the charms that others find in a fascinating romance.
He remained with Edwards & Sturtevant for six or seven years, and also studied under Isaac Edwards, afterward principal of the Albany Law school, a man of eminent legal abilities, and the author of valuable works on ” Bills and Notes,” ” Bailments,” etc.
After a careful and thorough legal instruction, Mr. Meegan was admitted to the bar in 1867, at the age of twenty-one. It was a proud day in his history when, with his law diploma in hand, he stepped out from a student’s life, which he had followed so creditably, to practice for himself on the world’s broad stage. Opening a law office at No 74 State street, Albany, he entered upon his new and cherished profession with all his native ardor and with a just and laudable ambition to rise to the summit of forensic fame. And it is no wonder that, with the previous training and experience he had received, combined with his inborn love for his profession; he should speedily become a successful and accomplished advocate. From the first he was retained in numerous civil cases, in which he was uniformly victorious and by which his popularity was greatly increased. His services in another capacity were soon required by his fellow-citizens, when his career as a political leader and adviser may be said to have commenced. Mr. Meegan is preeminently a politician as well as an excellent lawyer, and he has happily combined both of these qualities. From first to last a politician of the democratic order – bold, fearless, skillful and adroit – giving no quarter to his opponents, he is a veritable Achilles who would glory in the annihilation of his Hector. He has already made his mark in the political world, the strength of which has made a strong impression not only in his native city but throughout the state. True to his convictions of political duty, he has strongly adhered to one of the wings of the Democratic Party in Albany, while he is vehemently opposed by other factions in the same party – factions which unhappily too often exist both in republican and democratic ranks.
Scarcely had two years elapsed in his general law practice before Mr. Meegan was appointed corporation counsel of Albany. Hon. George H. Thacher was then mayor of the city, and the majority of the common council was democratic. But as a democratic corporation counsel Mr. Meegan’s official services were of no little value to the general welfare of the city, saving it over $500,000. For the executive ability, rare skill and untiring vigilance which he displayed in the management of municipal affairs he received the thanks of the mayor as well as of the other city authorities. Mr. Meegan acted as corporation counsel from the spring of 1869 till the spring of 1874. During all this time his regular law business was growing, and when he relinquished the office of corporation counsel his legal practice was one of the largest and most lucrative of any in the city.
He now again devoted himself exclusively to civil and criminal cases, and success still more marked attended his many forensic efforts. His career was already a brilliant one for a young lawyer, but like the morning sun it was steadily advancing to meridian splendor. In taking hold of numerous city cases, especially those growing out of actions to vacate assessments for irregularity, etc., he gained no little celebrity while he rendered important services in behalf of the city. In the management of these cases it may be said of him as of some skillful physician, he never lost a case. He has also had a large practice in general corporation law.
Among the many cases in which Mr. Meegan has been engaged, and in which he has won bright laurels we have only space here to enumerate several of the most important and interesting ones.
In 1872 Mr. Meegan was engaged in the defense of the case of People, ex rel. Edmunel Z. Judson, v. George H. Thacher, in which the title to the office of mayor of the city of Albany was involved. By a masterly display of legal skill and eloquent pleading he gained the case for his client, but it was afterward taken to the court of appeals where a new trial was ordered. In the meantime Mr. Thacher resigned his office, having served a year and eight months out of the regular term of two years. Ten years later Mr. Meegan was retained for the defense in another contest over the office of mayor of the city of Albany. This time he defended the case oi People, ex rel. John Swinburne, v. Michael N. Nolan. The litigation was a long, tedious and exciting one, but after holding the office for fifteen months Mr. Nolan resigned, and Dr. Swinburne served the remainder of the term.
In 1883 Mr. Meegan was retained for the defendant in a very important case, that of People, ex rel. McEzven, v. Keeler, touching the constitutionality of the act passed by the legislature on the 31st of May, 1882, an act which virtually took from Mr. William H. Keeler, the newly elected sheriff, the essential powers of his office – powers which his predecessors had always possessed. Mr. Keeler fully determined to contest the matter in the courts, and for this purpose requested Mr. Meegan to write an opinion as to the validity of the statute. In a very elaborate opinion, contrary to the expressed belief of several leading members of the bar, he came to the conclusion that the law was unconstitutional and void, and it was finally so declared by the courts. Great public interest was manifested in the trial of this case. On this occasion Mr. Meegan displayed the full force of his masculine eloquence and his deep research into the questions of constitutional law. Well do we remember as he stood up to argue this case, the calmness and earnestness of his manner, and the vigor and terseness of his sentences, as they engaged the closest attention of the court and the whole audience, making an impression that could not be easily effaced. It was a notable legal triumph for the lawyer, and the complete vindication of the rights of a faithful and efficient public servant.
In 1884 Mr. Meegan was retained for the defense in the celebrated case of People v. James M. Dempsey et al., involving the constitutionality of chapter 532 of the laws of 1881, amending the Code of Procedure in regard to the method of selecting grand jurors in Albany County. Mr. Dempsey was indicted for the alleged violation of the election laws under this new act. The case was one of absorbing interest to the people of Albany county; but Mr. Meegan, in one of the most masterly efforts of his life, in which the most exhaustive legal research was displayed in the presentation of authorities and the application of them to the subject in hand, succeeded in having the indictment declared void and of no effect by the court, on the ground of unconstitutionality. An appeal was taken by the district attorney to the Supreme Court, where Mr. Meegan’s motion for a dismissal of this appeal was successful.
In 1884 Mr. Meegan was retained for the defense in the case of People v. Petrea, indicted for grand larceny. In that case he appealed to the court of appeals, which sustained the point he made, that the amendment to the code of civil procedure which assumed to regulate the drawing of grand jurors was in conflict with the provisions of the constitution, and therefore void. As in former cases, Mr. Meegan thereby gained another similar and signal triumph. In the case of People v. Frank R. Sherwin, Mr. Meegan, who had taken no part in the original trial which had resulted in the conviction and sentence of Sherwin to the penitentiary, was afterward retained as counsel by the defendant, and at length succeeded in procuring stay of the sentence and having Sherwin admitted to bail in the sum of $3,000. Mr. Meegan was also successful in quashing the indictment against Devine for mayhem and Gasbeeck for burglary. In all the cases which he has conducted, he has, by great labor and close examination of the principles of sound law, brought before judge and jury a vast amount of legal learning – most adroitly and skillfully set forth. In the Russell-Chase senatorial contest in 1887, Mr. Meegan was one of the learned counsel retained by Mr. Russell. In this case, which involved nice distinctions in the election laws of the state, Mr. Meegan displayed great ability and research, and contributed largely to the success of Mr. Russell in securing his seat in the senate. He was also the leading counsel for Mr. LeRoy in his successful contest for the office of member of assembly in the fourth Albany district against the sitting member, Mr. Gillice. One of his most recent cases was that of O’Brioi v. The Home Benefit Society, recently decided by the court of appeals, which was a pioneer case against a benefit society; new and important questions were raised and decided. Mr. Meegan’s method of procedure was sustained although he acted contrary to the decisions of the supreme court of the first department.
Mr. Meegan, now in the very prime of life, possesses a fine physique, with broad shoulders, dark hair and eyes, an impressive countenance, an easy and engaging manner. As a forensic orator he stands in the foremost rank among the younger members of the Albany bar. His declamation is calm, earnest, forcible and polished. His memory is tenacious, and his knowledge of the law in all its various and complicated departments is extensive and profound.
Besides all his accomplishments as a lawyer and a politician, Mr. Meegan is a man of high intellectual culture, a great lover of books in every department of general literature, and the possessor of a well-selected private library, in which he finds much pleasure while disengaged from the onerous and often perplexing duties of his regular profession.
The career of Mr. Meegan affords a useful and suggestive commentary to young men on what may be achieved in law, literature, and politics by early application in the pursuit of knowledge under pecuniary difficulties, by an untiring perseverance in climbing the hill of science, and by a mind, vigorous, capacious, and self-reliant.