Putnam County Court Judge James Reitz died after suffering a heart attack on his bench Friday morning, reports say.
The 57-year-old judge — known for his rehabilitative drug court program — had just finished a case in his courtroom in upstate New York and was preparing for the next one when he suddenly collapsed after asking the court officer for help, CNN reported.
“They were getting ready to call the next case when Reitz said to the court officer that was with him, ‘John, I think I need you to help me here,’” Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell told CNN about the incident.
After the officer performed CPR and used an automatic electronic defibrillator to try and resuscitate him, the ambulance arrived and took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead after paramedics had attempted to save him for nearly an hour.
“Unfortunately, he passed away shortly upon arrival there,” Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the New York State Unified Court System, told USA Today.
Before becoming a judge for Putnam County in 2007, Reitz was a lawyer at a private practice. He went on to become well known for his drug court program, which focused on helping individuals charged with crimes related to drug addiction find treatment and avoid prison time, according to CNN.
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“He ran the best drug court in New York state,” former New York state Sen. Terrence Murphy told CNN. “He literally saved people’s lives. He’s an iconic person and will be sorely missed. Our professional relationship went beyond, into personal friendship, with him and his wife Barbara. I’m still in shock.”
His passion for helping others will be a major loss for the community, Odell told the outlet.
“He was a giant among men in this community. We will be feeling his loss for a very long time,” she added. “I personally lost a dear friend and Putnam County lost a dedicated public servant whose passion was helping anyone who needed help.”