The scales of justice

Arthur G. Pitts playing piano

Arthur G. Pitts ’73

Recently reelected to the New York State Supreme Court, Arthur G. Pitts ’73 balances his work with play while maintaining the ethical principles of a judge. In his time away from the bench of the high court, Pitts finds himself at another bench — playing piano in Long Island restaurants.

His judicial career began in Suffolk County, where he spent seven years as a county court judge trying criminal cases. In 1998, he tried the first death penalty case on Long Island in 30 years, and it quickly became more complicated than he had expected. The defendant was convicted, requiring Pitts to sign a death warrant. However, the state law was soon overturned and the individual was once again brought before Pitts — who ultimately re-sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Pitts’s career in criminal cases finished in 2000, but he recounted this case as the most interesting one of his career thus far. His focus as a judge shifted when he was elected to the New York State Supreme Court to rule on civil cases during a 14-year term.

The Colgate political science major always knew that he wanted to go into law. Prior to his time on the court, he was a lawyer for seven years. And, he’s continuing to practice another lifelong passion. Self-described as “the piano player in the corner who sets the mood,” Pitts has a recurring gig at a restaurant in Riverhead, Long Island, on the first Friday of the month.

His piano career began in high school when he taught himself the ways around the ivory keys. At Colgate, he pursued his musical interests in the jazz ensemble and in his student band that performed at fraternity parties.

Upon election to the high court, Pitts was unsure if he would still be able to play his favorite song, “Not Like This” by Jeremy Lubbock, for a fee. So, he consulted the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics about getting paid for his night gig. When their opinion was handed down, he knew he had to follow their guidance to maintain his judicial ethics. It was deemed appropriate for him to “occasionally” play.

Aside from his performances in Riverhead, Pitts plays at Winterfest, a tourism event sponsored by the Long Island Wine Council featuring local artists at various venues. One of those venues is Bistro 72, where his photograph was captured and featured in a story on, bringing the judge a bit of local fame.

Away from both benches, Pitts is often out on the golf course. During his Colgate days, Pitts had taken golf in gym class, but found it too slow. He joked he would “take the game up after [his] first heart attack.” Fortunately, the heart attack has not happened — but he picked up recreational golf with his fellow justices during a convention. After that weekend, “the bug bit [him]” and he’s been playing ever since.

With his reelection to another 14-year term as a New York State Supreme Court Justice, Pitts intends to also continue playing piano. Some nights he even spots co-workers — or “groupies,” as he calls them — at the restaurant for a delicious meal and melodic tunes.

“It’s fun to have people come in and listen for a while, and then be able to go and talk with them on breaks,” Pitts said. “It’s a real kick. I truly enjoy it.”

He hopes to retire in the south and perform for new audiences, playing two or three nights a week, if only to “make money for greens fees.”

— Lauren Casella ’16