April 10, 2022
By Arthur H.Gunther III
Take a “country” boy who earns a law degree and throw him into an emerging suburb with the first wisps of urban-like crime, and you have someone who calls himself the “Hayseed D.A.” Only the fellow proves no country bumpkin. Or maybe he was one, because rural folk can have a real knowing, sophisticated eye.
Robert R. Meehan, raised in the pre-war and wartime era in the Village of Suffern, N.Y., knew old-style downtowns, schools where underpaid teachers had second jobs, where few locked house and car doors, where the look in someone’s eye guaranteed the handshake deal.
As Bob Meehan matured from high school football player to college and then law school graduate, through Navy service during the Korean War and back into post-war Rockland County, N.Y., he remembered the values of his upbringing.
In time, he would win a very close 1965 election for district attorney and serve through 1974. Bob would later become a County Court judge and acting New York State Supreme Court justice though from his writings in a book now assembled by Kathleen Meehan Do, one of his daughters, he preferred the D.A. post.
It is easy to see why. The book is an accident of luck but perhaps intended by the gods. In 2017, long after her father’s 2004 passing, Kathleen came across a bag of her dad’s papers held by her Aunt Carolyn, wife of Tom Meehan, the famed Broadway book author (“Annie,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray”). In the bag with legal pads and assorted papers was an unpublished 1978 manuscript, “The Hayseed D.A.”
Seems Bob Meehan had sent it to prospective publishers, but though it was deemed story-worthy, it was too rough and needed serious editing.
That became Kathleen’s devoted job since she is a professional writer with heavy experience in Albany and Pennsylvania. Her mission was aided by sisters Mary and Pat and others but surely by the spirit of her father cheering her on in what was more than a family mission and certainly not an effort by the former district attorney to shine a spotlight on himself.
Kathleen Do’s careful editing in this book published by State University of New York Press brings to readers fascinating stories of detective work in key cases, including the now 50-year-old tragic Congers school-bus crash that took the lives of five Nyack High School students. It is an inside look at how justice is pursued, how a careful D.A. can win cases, how mercy also applies. It is country values mixing with urban-like realities. It is a district attorney for the right time in a growing suburb.
The book is a good read, and to fully appreciate it, the final chapter, “Annie,” is especially recommend as it captures the essence of a country-raised fellow sharp in understanding law, full of compassion but also seeking justice, a boss loyal to staff and in deep humility grateful to them.
“Confessions of a Hayseed D.A.” takes Rockland County justice from the semi-rural age into the beginnings of suburban, even urban-like crime and punishment. Editor Do has put context and interpretation into the coming of age of both a county and an idealistic legal defender and prosecutor. Yet in all her editing and assembly, Robert R. Meehan’s voice is paramount, a tribute to both father and daughter.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who covered Bob Meehan’s career as a photographer and editorialist.