In 1986, writing for a divided court, he upheld the securities fraud conviction of a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal who had traded stocks on the basis of his advance knowledge of information that was to appear in a column he wrote, “Heard on the Street.”
“Judge Pierce will be remembered as a fair, impartial and disciplined jurist, who weighed each decision carefully, on the merits, and applied the law meticulously,” said T. Christopher Donnelly, a former law clerk of Judge Pierce’s. “On the bench and off the bench, he was thoughtful, dignified, respectful and kind.”
Lawrence Warren Pierce was born on Dec. 31, 1924, in Philadelphia. His father, Harold E. Pierce Sr., was at various times a bank guard, a hospital orderly and a research assistant who left the family when Lawrence was 11. His mother, Mary Leora (Bellinger) Pierce, a pianist who was known to have accompanied Marian Anderson, died of pneumonia when he was 5.
He was raised by his stepmother, Violet (Abrahams) Pierce, a nurse, and his paternal grandparents.
An uncle, who was a lawyer and prosecutor, inspired him to study law, he said. After serving in the Army in Italy during World War II, he became in 1948 the first black student to graduate from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia (now St. Joseph’s University). He received a law degree from the Fordham University School of Law.
While he was never in private practice, Judge Pierce was a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society and an assistant district attorney from 1954 to 1961 in Brooklyn, where his mentor was Assemblyman Bertram L. Baker, the borough’s first black state legislator.
He served as a deputy police commissioner for the department’s youth program from 1961 to 1963 and as director of the state Division for Youth to 1966 under Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.
In 1966, appointed by the governor, Judge Pierce became the founding chairman of the New York State Narcotic Addiction Control Commission. Thousands of addicts were undergoing compulsory residential treatment when he left the commission in 1970.