Country Club resident The Honorable John Barone spoke of Cerbone’s warm heart despite a gruff exterior.
“Joe had to show his toughness in the world, but he never lost his human sympathy,” commented Barone, summarizing the sense of duty he knew Cerbone gained after serving as a young 19-year-old in World War II at the Battle of Anzio, which he carried throughout his career in public service.
After his military service and a degree at St. John’s, thanks to the GI Bill, Cerbone served the borough in many capacities, from an early career as a prosecutor and bureaucrat, to a Civil and Criminal court judge later in his life.
Leaving the bench in 2001, he had served as a judicial hearing officer since then until the week before his passing.-The officers generally hear small offenses such as quality of life and traffic summonses.
But, earlier in his career, the judge was known as one of the top criminal judges in the county, presiding over numerous homicide and drug cases.
Bronx County Administrative judge The Honorable Barry Salmon recalled the loyal man who called him Barry the Kid.
“He was a very good guy,” Salmon commented. “But he was very no nonsense on the bench.”
But his service was not limited to law and order. A civic leader in other venues, Cerbone was active in the Monroe Democratic Club, Columbian Lawyer’s Association and the Chester Civic Improvement Association, a Pelham Gardens neighborhood group. He also knew how to have fun.
The Honorable Paul Victor, a longtime City Island resident, remembers a brilliant mind at law and at playing cards.
Victor recalls Cerbone’s early legal career on the other side of the bench as a prosecutor.
“He was one of the most competent attorneys in the office,” he said, “but he was also the nicest and smart person you’d ever meet.”
Of his poker skills, Victor thought they reflected what made the man a good lawyer, commenting, “He had total recall.”
The night before his passing, a number of individuals confirmed the judge was participating in his favorite hobby and as usual, won.