Haub Alumni of the Month: Timothy J. Koller '80

Timothy J. Koller is a 1980 graduate of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. He is currently the Chief Assistant, Richmond County District Attorney. Timothy is the longest serving assistant district attorney in the history of the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office. He has also served as an adjunct associate professor at St. John’s University for the past 18 years.

Why did you decide to go to law school?

I thought my analytical skills might serve me well as a lawyer. I graduated from St. John’s in 1977 and went straight to law school, graduating from Pace Law in 1980. I liked Pace Law the moment I visited for a tour in 1979. At that point, the school consisted of only a 1L class. I thought that it would be exciting to study the law in an academic environment that was in its infancy. 

Do you remember your first day of law school?

I remember being intimidated when I heard some of my fellow students quickly, and correctly, answer professors’ questions on the first day of classes. My previous suspicions that I would not be the smartest guy in the room were confirmed by lunchtime that first day.

What were some challenges you remember from law school?

Although I had a great time in college, my study habits were moderate, at best. Having to develop a regimen of disciplined study as an incoming 1L was a challenge for me. I had no choice but to adapt and carry on. 

Which professors stick out in your mind from your time at Pace?

I particularly enjoyed the CPLR class of the late Adolph Homburger, the Con Law class of the late Hervey Johnson, and the Torts class with the late Ralph Stein. They were all, in one way or another, instrumental in bringing me and my classmates along the journey of thinking like a lawyer. 

My favorite? Ben Gershman – Ben Gershman – Ben Gershman.

You are the longest serving assistant district attorney in the history of the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office – can you speak a bit about your career evolution at the DA’s office?

I was appointed an Assistant District Attorney on August 11, 1981, and began my career in the Criminal Court Bureau, where I was assigned to prosecute misdemeanor cases. In 1983, I was promoted to the Supreme Court Bureau where I tried felony cases of all shapes and sizes, including homicides. In 1986, I was appointed the Chief of the Career Criminal Unit, where I served until 1989, when I was named the Chief of the Investigations Bureau until 1991. In 1991, I was appointed the Chief of the Supreme Court Bureau, where I oversaw ADAs in their investigation and prosecution of a wide range of crimes. In 2013, I was named the Executive ADA, where I served until 2019, when District Attorney McMahon appointed me his Chief Assistant. I have been blessed to have come up through the ranks, and to now serve in that position.  

How did you end up focusing on criminal law? Was it always a passion of yours?

I had the good fortune in 1977 of having Ben Gershman as a 1L for Criminal Law. He was the one who ignited my passion for criminal law. His class was a transformative experience for me.

In the summer of 1979, I did an internship as a rising 3L in the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office. I worked for the late Bill Murphy, who was then the Chief Assistant, and who later served as District Attorney for 20 years. That experience tilted the arc of my career towards criminal prosecution.

As fate would have it, Ben and Bill worked together back in the 1970’s as ADAs in the Manhattan DA’s Office under District Attorney Frank Hogan. I stand on the shoulders of both men. 

What is your day to day like?

My days are long, and like snowflakes – no two are alike. In a single day, I could be representing the District Attorney at an event; having a meeting with our Executive staff; conferring with our Administrative Judge; speaking with NYPD executives on a wide array of issues; reviewing proposed legislation; discussing proposed arrests and dispositions on sensitive matters; conferring with my counterparts in the offices of the other four NYC District Attorneys and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, or being briefed on a homicide that happened the night before. 

What do you like best about your job?

What I like best about my job is working with the dedicated prosecutors, investigators, and professional staff of the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office. I really mean that.

Victims and witnesses are the only people in a criminal prosecution who didn’t choose to be involved in what happened. Although I learned early on in my career that I could not “un-victimize” a victim, trying to accomplish some degree of justice for them is the most rewarding part of what I do. I still stay in touch with survivors of homicide whose loved ones died over 35 years ago.   

What are some of your passions aside from the law?

I enjoy spending time with my family. I love listening to live music, which I have sorely missed during the pandemic. I enjoy volunteering at the start of the NYC Marathon, which my wife and  I began to do 7 weeks after 9-11, and which we continue to do. I also love Big East basketball.  

Do you have any advice for current students?

A law degree from Pace is yours forever. You have to work very hard for it, but it’s certainly worth it. Consider it a gift that you’ve been blessed with. Use it to do good.

Anything else you want to share, personally or professionally?

Whatever you do after law school, choose something that will make you happy.

Being a good lawyer is not mutually exclusive with being nice to people. 

As you grow more experienced as a lawyer, remember to do everything you can to send the elevator back down for a Pace Law grad.

Pray that you are as lucky as I am to be happily married to the same person for 40 years.