Judge Reitz Dies at 57 (Updated)

Putnam justice ran drug treatment court

By Chip Rowe

Putnam County Judge James Reitz died on Friday morning (June 14), at Putnam Hospital Center after suffering a heart attack on the bench. He was 57.

Court officers performed CPR and used an automatic electronic defibrillator in an attempt to save Reitz, said a representative for the state court system.

When he was stricken, the judge was handling a family court matter, he said. While county judges also hear surrogate matters and criminal cases, Reitz was best known for presiding over the county’s Judicial Diversion / DWI Treatment Court.

In an interview with The Current in 2017, he said the biggest challenge for defendants in drug treatment court was “staying alive, to give us time to hold them accountable. It’s a minimum two-year program and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If they don’t do things that force them out of the program, we have a fighting chance to change their lives.”

Judge James Reitz (File photo by Michael Turton)

Before becoming a Putnam County Court judge in 2007, Reitz spent 19 years as a prosecuting attorney and served as an elected part-time town justice in Carmel from 1996 to 2006. In 2018 he ran for an open seat as a state Supreme Court justice for the 9th Judicial District, which includes Putnam, Dutchess, Westchester, Orange and Rockland counties, but was not elected.

For the time being, Putnam County Judge James Rooney will handle cases that were before or scheduled to be heard by Reitz, who was re-elected in 2016 to a second, 10-year term. Under state law, the position will appear on the November ballot for a full term. In the meantime, the governor can appoint an immediate replacement who will serve until Dec. 31.

Reitz, who lived in Mahopac, also had been an acting state Supreme Court justice since 2007, overseeing personal injury and wrongful death suits, matrimonial and divorce cases, and land ownership and property claims. He was a graduate of Carmel High School, Mercy College and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University.

“Jim was always the person I turned to for support in good times and bad times, and his advice was honest and from the heart,” said County Executive MaryEllen Odell in a statement. “He was a pillar of this community and his everlasting impact cannot be measured…

“His love of serving the people was only surpassed by his love for his children and grandchildren, who provided him with many hours of well-deserved bragging rights,” Odell said. She noted he had been “an outspoken advocate for addiction recovery and second chances, which is why he was a pioneer for his beloved drug treatment court. His program was instrumental in saving countless lives and families in Putnam County.”

A visitation was held on Monday (June 17) at the Putnam County Bureau of Emergency Services, followed by a funeral Mass on Tuesday at St. James the Apostle Church in Carmel before burial at Raymond Hills Cemetery.

Besides his wife, Reitz is survived by his children, Alyssa, Jaime and Michael; six grandchildren; his mother, Mary; his brother, David; his twin brother, Thomas; his sister-in-law, Kris; and his nephew Matthew and niece Madison. Memorial donations may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (stjude.org) or a GoFundMe account established at bit.ly/reitz-fund for funeral and other expenses.

3 thoughts on “Judge Reitz Dies at 57 (Updated)

  1. Such a sad day for Putnam County. I knew Jim Reitz and he was a beautiful human being. He loved giving second chances in his court and it worked. He loved his family and was a doting grandfather. He will be sorely missed.

  2. I have met many justices during my career. Judge Reitz was particularly memorable, but it had nothing to do with my work. I was jury foreman in a case over which he presided. It was a money dispute amongst parties, but before the proceedings began he came to the jury room and spoke passionately about the importance of our service to the justice system.

    The case revealed emotionally sensitive evidence that he handled with intelligence, compassion, and an even hand that diffused tension and embarrassment. It was obvious he loved his job. The next day, he called to thank me for serving as foreman, and asked if I would please reach out to the other jurors and thank them. Soon after, I received an email with their contact information. Judge Reitz brought great dignity to his courtroom, and his office. The impression he made on me was lasting, and I have thought of him often. He left our community too soon.

  3. I attended the “drug court” that Judge Reitz presided over five or six times, as part of The Current’s series on opioid addiction. He could not have been more cooperative. He always had me stand up in court to explain why I was there; he, better than anyone, knew the importance of informing the public of the seriousness and extent of the disease of addiction. He met with me in chambers a number of times to explain what had gone on or was about to happen in court, what he was trying to accomplish. At the end of each court session he would ask if I needed anything else for my story. In court, he was not easily fooled. He had a very strong version of “tough love” for participants who were messing up, not abiding by the program rules. But when participants did the difficult work they had to do, he heaped praise and encouragement on them just as a proud parent would have. He helped many people. He was the right man for that job and he did it extremely well.