A Judicious Photographer

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The location was Thailand, and the Hon. Judge Bentley Kassal, C’37, was representing two charities on a photo shoot at a Cambodian refugee camp. As soon as night fell, he was forced to leave. Unwelcome? Hardly, but if he lingered, he might have been robbed by bandits crossing over the Cambodian border. Whether making a hasty exit or trekking up the mountains in Nepal, this 81-year-old retired judge and travel buff has experienced his share of adventure in three decades of volunteer photography work for Save the Children and numerous other charities.
   Judge Kassal has visited nearly 140 countries on his personal journeys and volunteer photography missions. He began taking pictures for the relief and development organization Save the Children in 1971, searching in each village or city he visited for children whose faces — sad or smiling — would best convey the needs of the charity. “I’ve tried to capture the expressions which I thought would be appealing,” Kassal says, “and by and large they’ve turned out to be very good.” Good enough, Save the Children believed, for an exhibit featuring his work. Beyond the Bench was on view this summer at the charity’s Westport, Conn., headquarters. This fall, Kassal plans to move it to two New York City courthouses — appropriate venues for a photographer with a 24-year judicial career.
   He was elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 1975, becoming an associate justice of its Appellate Division in 1982. He served as an acting Judge of the Court of Appeals in 1985. One of his most memorable decisions, however, came as a civil-court judge in 1975, in the divorce case of Morgan v. Morgan. The wife had dropped out of college to support her husband through law school. Kassal ruled that he must support her to return to college and medical school, applying the principle of “equitable distribution” five years before New York adopted it into law.
   He reluctantly retired from the bench in 1993, in compliance with the state’s age limit of 75. Now he works as counsel to the litigation department of a large Manhattan law firm while continuing to squeeze in pro bono photo assignments. Next stop on his itinerary: Ireland, to photograph synagogues for the World Monuments Fund.

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