Becoming the Honorable Frank Maas

The Honorable Frank Maas is most recognized for his career at a courthouse only a few blocks away from the current Stuyvesant building. But the connections he made during his time as a Stuyvesant student have stretched over many decades.

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Name: Hon. Frank Maas

Age: 73

Date of Birth: June 1950

Graduation Year: 1967

Occupation: United States Magistrate Judge, First Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation, Assistant US Attorney

Hailing from the Stuyvesant Class of 1967, the Honorable Frank Maas has forged for himself a long and diverse career in the law. Before retiring in 2016, Maas worked as a Federal Magistrate Judge at the Southern District of New York Courthouse in Lower Manhattan. Though he did not enter his freshman year at Binghamton University intending to be a lawyer, he witnessed the utility of a Juris Doctor and attended law school in pursuit of his own. After clerking, Maas became a federal prosecutor and then entered private practice. When Mayor Guilliani offered him an investigative position to oust the Genovese Crime Family from the Fulton Fish Market, he accepted. After that stint, Maas became a magistrate judge at the Southern District of New York Federal Court. He remained on the bench for 17 years. 

Reflecting on his time as a student at Stuyvesant, Maas holds fond memories of his teachers and classmates. In particular, he is proud of the intuition and intelligence that Stuyvesant students possessed, which helped them stand out even in higher education. “The Stuyvesant kids were […] just an incredibly bright group of people,” Maas said. “As they went up the educational pyramid at law school, there were not a lot of people who hadn’t excelled academically, but Stuyvesant kids still […] were competitive with them in terms of ability.” 

Though the judge has a vast collection of experiences working in the law, he still cites moments at Stuyvesant as having had lasting emotional impacts. His favorite teacher at Stuyvesant was Roger Goodman, a former Chair of the English Department. “When he would read Lady Macbeth's parts during class, it was Lady Macbeth in front of you, not a short guy with a beard,” Maas recalled. “He was just a wonderful teacher.” Goodman showcased a humorous side, too. “Every Friday he would tell the class that he wanted to be careful […] if they were driving that weekend, even though none of us were old enough to drive,” Maas recounted.

However, due to the extreme course rigor typical at Stuyvesant, not every class was smooth sailing. “On the other side of the pendulum, there was a math teacher who I had the misfortune to have two years in a row who just terrified me,” Maas said. “By and large, the teachers were pretty good but there were some where you just sort of scratched your head and said, how did they get here?” 

Even as a high school student, Maas was well aware of the political tumult surrounding American society during the 1960s, a time filled with civil rights rallies and anti-Vietnam protests. “I remember going to a very large anti-war demonstration. I can’t remember whether it was my junior year or my senior year, but it was on First Avenue just south of the UN. And I thought it would be a fairly small demonstration [but] it stretched for many, many blocks south as far as the eye could see,” Maas commented. The judge’s interest in activism followed him to college, where he took on roles that exhibited similarities to his future career in the law.  

After graduating from Stuyvesant in 1967, Maas matriculated to the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University. There, he majored in Political Science and Government and became involved in student activism, assuming roles in which he wielded considerable influence to represent the student body. Some of this governing responsibility had been siphoned away from the administration and faculty and toward students in response to the anti-war movements of the late 1960s. “Students were a power block that exerted enormous influence in those years [...] the faculty was somewhat sympathetic to students’ desire to have a greater say over their education,” Maas reflected. 

Though he did not enter college intending to become a lawyer, the judge’s tenure as a student activist foreshadowed his future legal career. “[At Binghamton], I ended up chairing the due process sub-committee, which drafted the judicial system for the college, both for students charged with social and other infractions and for faculty who were charged with infractions,” Maas recounted. This position reflects his future tenure as a federal prosecutor and a Magistrate Judge, though the caliber of the crimes in question would differ.

The next step on the judge’s post-Stuyvesant journey took him further upstate. “Because I was involved with the college administration, I ended up working for Empire State College in Saratoga Springs as an intern. My job, in part because they were starting to staff up this college, was to handle the nuts and bolts of recruitment. So if people came in for interviews, I might pick them up at the airport, take them out to lunch.” This internship not only allowed Maas to gain a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a university but also introduced him to coworkers who had pursued law degrees and found them useful. “There was a guy who had the office next to me, Dr. Kita, and Dr. Kita’s doctorate was [a] JD degree from Syracuse University,” Maas recalled. “I began to realize that a law degree was pretty portable.” 

After graduating from Binghamton University in 1972, Maas decided to pursue higher education. “I decided I would go to law school, but I never intended to practice law. I thought I’d get an office, you know, at some college someplace and be Dr. Maas in a college administration someplace,” he said. He attended Law School at New York University and graduated in 1976, by which time his future path had shifted yet again. “My career, by and large, has not been planned. When I was in my third year of law school, one of the faculty members said, well, your grades are very good. You should clerk [...] So I ended up clerking for two years for a federal judge,” Maas added. Maas clerked for the Honorable Henry Werker of the Southern District of New York, the same federal court where he would work as a Magistrate Judge thirty years later. As a clerk, Maas gained experience managing civil and criminal cases on the federal circuit and gaining valuable familiarity with the court system under the expertise of a judge.

Once he gained work experience in the field of law, Maas chose his specialization after taking an interest in the work of those he worked under. “The judge I clerked for had some terrific criminal trials and I decided I wanted to be a federal prosecutor. So I ended up doing that for seven years,” Maas said. He held the post of Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in the Criminal Division, working on many of the same cases that he encountered as a clerk but from an attorney’s perspective. There, he was given the opportunity to foray into private practice. “Somebody who had been in the civil division of the US Attorney's office was looking for a partner to work with him at a large law firm and called me up. So I ended up doing [...] civil practice work with some white collar criminal work for about nine years,” he explained. During this time, Maas was an associate and then made partner at the firm of Phillips, Lytle, Hitchcock, Blaine & Huber LLP. 

In 1995, a familiar name gave Maas the special opportunity to work in city government. “Rudy Giuliani, who [was] the U.S. Attorney [for the Southern District] and had just become mayor and was not yet crazy, reached out and asked whether I'd be interested in a project to kick the Genovese crime family out of the Fulton fish market. So I ended up doing that for four years,” Maas recalled. He began as a deputy commissioner and then became the first deputy commissioner for the New York City Department of Education. In this role, he oversaw criminal investigations concerning Department of Corrections staff in the city government. 

In 1999, Maas entered the longest segment of his career: 17 years spent as a magistrate judge at the Southern District of New York Federal Court. This time, the job search process was a little bit different. “I saw an advertisement in the New York Law Journal for a magistrate judge position. So I applied for that. I hadn’t really thought about, you know, wanting to be a judge until shortly before I filled out the application,” Maas reflected. As a Federal Magistrate Judge, Maas’ responsibilities ranged from presiding over trials and settlement conferences to facilitating pretrial discovery, the process by which the parties in a case provide each other with relevant evidence that they have found. Maas has presided over many employment law civil cases and is also recognized for his skill at negotiating settlements between parties when they are too at odds to settle on their own. To be a successful settlement judge, one must demonstrate patience, fortitude, and creativity, in order to find a solution that bridges even the largest of disagreements.

Maas encourages students interested in a career in the law not to box themselves into any one area of study in college. “There's the perception [of] the past: major in political science [and] that will lead to a career in law. But the great thing is you can major in pretty much anything. [...] Law school teaches you a particular way of thinking. And so long as you're in a rigorous academic program that teaches you to think critically, it doesn't much matter whether it’s music or biology,” Maas shared. 

Recent developments in technology may also bring more demand for experts in STEM-based fields to become lawyers. “Nowadays, as we're moving into artificial intelligence, degrees in computer science are going to be particularly valuable for people who want to be involved in law [...] The one caveat I'd say is that skill in writing is an important thing to have,” Maas noted. The legal field is vast, varied, and welcoming to all manner of skills and talents. Students looking to enter it should think critically about their own interests and explore how they might bring future expertise to a career in law.

Maas also advises the students of today to consider the power of networking and to apply it once they exit Stuyvesant, both in the context of their career and their social life. “Because kids come from everywhere in the city, you're probably not going to develop the same sort of friendships that you would if you went to a local high school. But I think cultivating those friendships is an important thing,” Maas said. Despite the struggles that came with balancing his mailroom job and school, Maas still came away with great friendships and experiences. “There are people [with whom] I would go to a far-off land called Brooklyn and get together with, some of whom are still friends today,” Maas quipped. 

Along with this trove of advice, Maas reflected the change in music styles between the 60s and the present. His favorite song from the 60s, Alice's Restaurant, by folk singer Arlo Guthrie, is an 18-minute talking blues song touching on Guthrie’s arrest in Massachusetts and reflecting the anti-war sentiment of the period. This genre of music was prominent at major American folk music festivals and drew Americans far and wide to hear these short-form stories through music.

Despite all the accolades he has accumulated over the years, Maas admitted that he listed Stuyvesant High School on his resume for about 50 years. “You know, most people don't list their high school unless they're proud of it. And there were lots of times where it started the conversation because the person I was talking to or interviewing with also had gone [to Stuyvesant],” Maas said. Stuyvesant has followed Maas throughout his career, helping him to forge meaningful connections in unexpected places. The outsized impact that three years of high school has had on his decades-long career speaks to the indelible value of a Stuyvesant education.