Judge Frank Bayger, Hall of Fame Trial Lawyer, Is Back Practicing Law

Judge Frank Bayger (Ret.) ...handling personal injury cases

Judge Frank Bayger (Ret.) …handling personal injury cases

Frank “Duke” Bayger worked at a bowling alley while attending high school, worked as a dishwasher and waiter at the famed Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, worked as a bartender at the Town Casino nightclub in Buffalo, and won a $12.5 million defamation judgment for the late Niagara Falls restaurateur John Prozeralik against Capital Cities Communications and ABC Corporation, one of the largest verdicts in state history and in the country in a libel and slander case against a communications corporation.

The case, which was eventually settled for $11.5 million, stemmed from a television report on Buffalo’s Ch. 7 (Capital Cities) in May of 1982 that falsely named Prozeralik as a victim of a mob abduction and beating when the actual victim was David Pasquantino.

Bayger tried the case twice after the first verdict totaling $18.5 million was reversed by the state Court of Appeals.  In the second trial (1996), Bayger won an $11.5 million verdict against the best First Amendment lawyers that money could buy that was modified to include interest from the date of the first broadcast, and adjusted to $12.5 million, later settling for $11.5 million with Prozeralik walking away with a tax-free check for $8 million.

It was a celebrated First Amendment case, but only one of many multi-million verdicts for Frank Bayger, who began his legal career in 1955 after graduating from the University of Buffalo Law School where he had enrolled after turning down acceptance at St. Louis University’s Jesuit Medical School after receiving his bachelor of science degree in pre-medial studies at Canisius College.

Bayger became a partner in the Jasen, Manz, Johnson & Bayger firm in 1958 with all four partners eventually becoming judges.  It was during this time that Duke Bayger made his mark in local legal circles in criminal law, ranging from DWI to success in two murder cases, and in 1960, at the ripe old age of 29, he formed his own law firm where he practiced until he was appointed to Erie County Court by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in 1968, eventually winning a four-year term.

But Judge Bayger was just beginning, and a few years later, he was appointed to State Supreme Court by Gov. Rockefeller and won a 14-year term in 1973 with the support of all four political parties.  He retired from the bench in 1986 and he’s worked at several firms since then, including setting up his own firm which later merged with the prominent Buffalo firm of Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Salisbury &Cambria where he became special counsel.

Bayger, a grandson of Polish immigrants who was raised in Kaisertown, has won many awards and honors during his distinguished legal career including induction into the Hall of Fame of the National Trial Lawyers Association and being elected president of the University of Buffalo School of Law Alumni Association.  The list goes on and on, and so do the string of favorable verdicts ranging from $7 million to a Niagara Falls ironworker injured on the job to $9 million recovered in a pilot error judgment in the crash of American Airlines Flight #587 in Queens, killing 251 Dominican passengers.

And now, when he could be sitting back and reminiscing about the many legal battles he has waged, Duke Bayger has opened up an office at 2578 Niagara Falls Blvd. (Niagara Falls address) and is practicing personal injury and wrongful death cases again after recovering from a stroke suffered more than 20 years ago and returning to the practice of law that required him to pass the bar again which he did in very impressive fashion.

At lunch last week, the animated former jurist and entrepreneur who once developed a ranch that was home to a herd of 300 bison in Ellicottville, says he’s back practicing law not because he likes the work but because he wants to help people who need help.

“I’m not interested in the work,” he said, “I’m interested in helping poor people, and that’s what I’m doing.”  Nothing in his manner suggested battle fatigue although as the forward in a special pamphlet he has on display gives an idea what this former dishwasher has done.  It says: “55 years as a practicing lawyer, County Court Judge and 13 years as a New York State Supreme Court Justice, I evaluated, settled or tried approximately 10,000 personal injury and wrongful death cases.  In private practice, I evaluated, settled or tried approximately 3,000 personal injury and wrongful death cases.”

Judge Bayger's Office ...2578 Niagara Falls Blvd. , Niagara Falls

Judge Bayger’s Office
…2578 Niagara Falls Blvd. , Niagara Falls

The pamphlet lists many of his significant verdicts and settlements in abbreviated form and advises prospective clients that consultations and evaluations are free with no fee unless you win.  Now how’s that from a former judge with a rich history of winning and settling multi-million dollar cases who is willing to advise you for free?  And make no mistake.  Duke is at the office every day, plans on adding lawyers to his staff, and building as he has always done with an eye toward the future.

Anyone interested in talking to Judge Bayger about a legal matter will find his contact information in this newspaper (see ad), but we’ll print it here in case you want to reach him.  The office number is 216-6226; cell number 949-8090 and the email address is Frankrbayger@gmail.com.

Duke Bayger has more colorful stories about his long legal career than any lawyer I have ever met, and believe me I have met a few in my many years covering the courts and the criminal justice system.  The Hall of Fame trial lawyer seems to have plenty left in the tank and is looking forward, as he puts it, to helping poor people get their just due.  We’ll have some more about Judge Bayger in future editions as we recall one of the most fascinating legal careers on record from a lawyer who is still living it.

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