In Memoriam: Peter Kougasian

Peter KougasianThe New York City Bar Association mourns the passing of Peter Kougasian. A City Bar member for 35 years, Peter chaired the Board of Directors (formerly known as the Executive Committee); served as a Vice President of the Association; chaired the Committees on the Judiciary, Corrections and Community Reentry, and Legal Education and Admission to the Bar; served on the Disability Law Committee and Nominating Committee; and chaired the delegation to the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates. He and his wife, Beth, were involved in the formation of the City Bar Chorus. 

Of his City Bar work, Peter regarded as a personally transformative experience the creation in 1989 of a pioneering report on HIV/AIDS in New York’s prisons by the Corrections Committee and the Criminal Justice Operations and Budget Committee, for which he and his colleagues observed on Rikers Island the squalid conditions in which AIDS-afflicted incarcerated people were held. Those who read the report, which was featured on the front page of the New York Times, “like never before, saw the impacts of HIV/AIDs as a public health concern,” he said.

In 2015, the City Bar honored Peter with its Thomas E. Dewey Medal for his work as Bureau Chief in the Trial Division in the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor in Manhattan. In a 2010 City Bar profile, Peter described his approach to the work in light of his original intention of becoming a defense attorney. “In an office like the New York County DA’s office, if you have concerns about the defendant’s guilt, or about whether prosecution is the right thing to do, you can get permission to dismiss the case,” he said. “When you’re arraigning a man for selling drugs, and you’re making a bail application, it’s easy to make the assumption he has no children. But what if he has sole custody of the children? What if the mother is a drug addict and unfit to care for the children? Or what happens when you look and see that a defendant is 17 years old? What additional issues does that bring to a case? If what we’re trying to do is prevent crime and rehabilitate offenders, to protect society, those are exactly the kind of questions that are going to help us.”

In his acceptance remarks for the Dewey Medal, Peter shared the humor appreciated by all who knew him, turning on the dais to tell DA Robert Morgenthau how indebted he was to him “for suspending the principle of merit hiring.” His engaging presence surely benefitted from his pastime, performing as a professional-level magician, including at the famous Monday Night Magic show at the Bleecker Street Theatre, where his bio read in part: “Kougasian opened the performance and acted as host. His charming personality and contagious enthusiasm quickly permeated the room and roped the audience in for the start of the show. This was vital, as in a matter of minutes ‘Uncle Pete’ took us from a fidgety crowd on folding chairs to an enraptured and engaged audience prepped for the ‘miracles’ to come.”

That was Peter Kougasian, who will be remembered for his warmth, humanity, enthusiasm, humor, magic and all-around menschiness as well as for his contributions to the justice system and the legal profession.


A small, private family funeral service will be live-streamed on Saturday, September 25, at 11:00 a.m. EST via Zoom at this link. If you experience difficulty logging into the Zoom stream, please text 714-420-7778 for assistance. The service will be recorded and also available for viewing at a later at the same link.