Dan Hust | Democrat
As their two sons told a crowd of 300 their memories of life in the Lungen household, Steve and Eileen Lungen listened with both a hint of pride and gratitude.
Lungen bids farewell
By Dan Hust
BLOOMINGBURG “It’s official: there are more cops in this room than there are in the Dunkin’ Donuts tonight.”
That zinger came Friday from George Cooke, given to a room full of not just police officers but attorneys, and it illustrated the good-natured repartee flying through the packed banquet room of the Eagle’s Nest in Bloomingburg that evening.
For in some ways, Steve Lungen was not being feted so much as being roasted for his upcoming retirement.
Sullivan County’s district attorney for 28 years currently the second-longest-serving DA in New York State Lungen has developed a tough, no-nonsense reputation, but on Friday, he showed a softer side and speaker after speaker took full advantage.
“Everyone is here to make sure you are actually leaving,” quipped Lungen’s Orange County counterpart, DA Frank Phillips.
Attorney Eric Adler added that most people can’t imagine Lungen leaving.
“One of the reasons it’s hard to imagine is because he’s been talking about it for 16 years!” Adler said only half-joking.
Former Sheriff Dan Hogue offered a “letter” written by an “inmate” Lungen had locked away for more than 100 years.
“It’s been a pleasure,” Hogue read to many a chuckle, “to see you are leaving after all these years!”
Amidst the jokes, however, were a true affection and a deep respect for a county native who first joined the office as an assistant DA in 1973.
“I can say without hesitation that there is no attorney who has ever appeared before me who was more concerned about the cause of justice,” noted SC Supreme Court Justice Tony Kane, himself a retiree come January.
“He’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to law enforcement, not only in Sullivan County, but in all New York State,” added Liberty Police Chief Robert Mir.
Though longtime Legal Aid attorney Steve Schick joked that Lungen often put him through courtroom agony, he too could think of no better DA.
“If I or my family members were victims of a serious crime, I would want Steve Lungen as the prosecutor,” Schick said.
“He cares about his community,” agreed Lungen’s successor-to-be, Jim Farrell. “He cares about victims of crime.… He is a true hero of Sullivan County.”
As Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther told him directly, “You’ve made our community safer and better.”
Plaques and citations from the bulk of area police departments, municipalities and a donation by the SC Bar Association to the Monticello Elks’ Drug Awareness Program backed up those words of praise.
Baseball great Willie Mays, whom Lungen idolizes, even wrote a letter of congratulation, lauding his “noteworthy career of public service.”
But nothing moved the crowd as much as the words emanating from his two sons.
“My father has been nothing short of an inspiration and role model to me,” acknowledged Matthew Lungen, 36. “... You’re much more than a public figure. You’re my dad, my Pop.”
“You will certainly be viewed in history as the greatest district attorney in the history of Sullivan County,” seconded 39-year-old Rich Lungen. “... What you give is worth an unknown amount.”
As his wife Eileen and the rest of his family watched, Steve Lungen stepped to the podium and for once looked out of his element.
Embarrassed and humbled, he wondered aloud, “How do I sum up 37 years, a life’s work, in just a few minutes?”
He found that summation in recollections of the crime victims he fought so hard for, the staff with whom he’s deeply bonded, the former DAs and assistant DAs who guided him into professional maturity, the time he had to balance the horrific death and abuse case of Christopher Gardner with Eileen’s surgery for a brain tumor, the lessons learned from hundreds of other cases, including 40 murder trials.
As DA, Lungen has often had to make decisions concerning life and death, decisions that could affect his own life.
Yet it’s not about winning, he said, but a heavy-duty responsibility.
“You have the freedom to do what is right.”