Portrait Dedicated For Dunkirk Judge Retiring After 8 Years On The Bench

Judge Walter F. Drag, who is retiring at the end of the year, has his portrait unveiled with his family, which include pictured here: his son Nate, wife Susan and daughter Liz. Photo by Damian Sebouhian

DUNKIRK – After 28 years presiding as Dunkirk’s city court judge, Walter F. Drag is retiring.

If the portrait dedication ceremony held last week is any indication of how the community feels about Drag, he will be sorely missed. The courtroom was packed with admirers including court staff, police officers, attorneys, friends and family, many of whom shed tears throughout the ceremony.

Speakers honoring Drag included mayor Willie Rosas, Chief Court Clerk Jean Dill, Dunkirk Historian Diane Andrasik and Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano.

The event included an unveiling of Judge Drag’s portrait, as well as an unveiling of former Judge Raul Figueroa’s portrait. Both will be added to the wall above the bench with past judges August R. Jankowski, Raymond Bartkowkiak, Mary Schober, John Hallenbeck and Joseph Ricotta.

“It’s important that we continue our tradition and history in the city of Dunkirk to remember those who have come before us,” Rosas said. “Our honorable judge has done a wonderful job. We wish him the very best.”

A partial list of Judge Drag’s community involvement include: serving as Dunkirk city attorney, attorney for the Dunkirk Housing Authority, adjunct lecturer of law courses at SUNY Fredonia and deputy county attorney.

Drag was active on the Northern Chautauqua Catholic School Board, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church boards, Dunkirk Rotary, Dunkirk Free Library, Dunkirk Historical Society, Dunkirk Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations. During his last 15 years, he has presided in the Treatment Court for northern Chautauqua County.

Drag praised the judges that came before him, especially Figueroa.

“He was elected to the bench and he sat there for 17 years, retiring in 2001 with over 42,000 cases,” Drag said. “One important thing that he did that helped judges across the state: he served on a body called the Advisory Committee for Judicial Ethics. So if we have an ethical question, there’s a body out there who we can call, send a letter, they’ll give us some guidance to make sure we stay on the straight and narrow.

“There are a lot of problems that pop up, and of course, we don’t want to jeopardize our reputation while we’re sitting on the bench by making some foolish mistake. It’s very important. He was a guiding spirit for many judges and the community.”

Judge Drag’s son, Nate, brought some levity to the afternoon when illustrating his experience of growing up with a judge for a father.

“People wanted to know if I had to say ‘good afternoon your honor’ when I came home from school,” Nate told the crowd. “It wasn’t like that. He was just my dad.”

Nate joked that he benefited from some good legal advice for “a friend, who hypothetically may have gotten into trouble on occasion.”

Ultimately having a father who was so dedicated to his work inspired both he and his sister, Liz.

“I know it helped shape who we ended up being as adults.”

Ortolano, addressing the Judge, said, “You’ve served with compassion, integrity. You’ve done a great job. You’ve been a very good friend to the Dunkirk Police Department. You’ve always been fair, and for that we thank you.

Jean Dill said of Judge Drag, “He gives his heart and soul to everything he does. I know that in his retirement none of us in the group are anxious for him to move on, but realize that he really needs to spend some time with his family, his wife and go on to do different things in different areas.

Whatever he does in the future, he’ll keep us in the back of his mind. He’ll be over that bench looking down on us, maybe with a little snicker, saying something to us.”


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