“Over the Years, I’ve Seen It All”


According to Brian N. Bauersfeld L’04, there is rarely anything routine about his job at the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, NY. “Every day you might happen upon a new obstacle, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, you can get a shock!”

Bauersfeld is one of a new generation of lawyers working inside the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision as a commissioner’s hearing ocer. His task is to ensure that prisoner discipline is performed professionally and justly.

“Hearing officers preside over disciplinary hearings of inmates who have violated the prison’s internal rules,” says Bauersfeld, explaining that inmates must abide by a rule book they receive when they enter the prison.

Although prison officials from various departments may preside over a disciplinary hearing—a deputy superintendent, say, or an education supervisor—in the early 1980s, New York State pledged to hire more trained lawyers to act as hearing officers in order to bring more expertise to the work.

As an experienced attorney, Bauersfeld conducts some of the more difficult cases, and not just at Auburn. “Occasionally, I go on the road to Sing Sing, Attica, Clinton, and Great Meadow.”

Typically, a prisoner accused of violating rules will be issued a misbehavior report. “That acts as a charging report,” explains Bauersfeld. “Then, in the hearing, I act as prosecutor, defense advocate, and judge. I must remain fair and impartial, holding inmates accountable yet keeping their limited due process rights intact.”

Infractions Bauersfeld encounters can be as simple as a refusal to follow orders “all the way up to assaults on an officer and even one inmate beating another to death,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve seen it all. Nothing is ever routine, and every day is dierent.”

On the other hand, explains Bauersfeld, there are strict rules against taking casework beyond the facility’s walls, so his is an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. job. “That helps me recharge my batteries.”

How did Bauersfeld’s legal training qualify him to be a hearing officer? “I pretty much checked every box when it came to preparing for this career, doing defense, appellate, and prosecutorial work,” he says. “Given my career trajectory, I encourage students to embrace law school for everything it can oer. Pigeon-holing yourself can be a disservice.”

Bauersfeld was on a financial career path at first, working for Morgan Stanley after receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame. That was until a colleague suggested that the law might be a better fit for him. At Syracuse, he enjoyed courses in contracts and business law, and—after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—he embraced national security law, becoming one of the first students to earn a Certificate of Advanced Study in National Security and Counterterrorism.

“Because of the ‘all-in-one’ nature of my current role— prosecutor, advocate, and judge—I’d have to say that everything in law school at Syracuse prepared me.”

Brian N. Bauersfeld L’04

“Because of the ‘all-in-one’ nature of my current role—prosecutor, advocate, and judge—I’d have to say that everything in law school prepared me,” adds Bauersfeld. “When I write dispositions, for instance, I recall Professor Richard Risman’s legal writing course. I have to
remember the importance of audience, although my audience is a prison inmate!”

Bauersfeld adds that he also must be mindful of the appeals process and make a complete record of the hearing and evidence. “So my training in criminal procedure and rules of evidence comes into play.”

After law school, he worked for McMahon & Grow in Rome, NY, practicing corporate
and business law, as well as criminal defense work. Bauersfeld subsequently opened his own defense practice in Auburn and acted as an assigned counsel throughout Cayuga County. This work put him into contact—albeit across the table—with the Cayuga County District Attorney, and soon he was working inside the busy DA’s office. “I was there for almost seven years, working on every type of case—financial crimes, drug cases, and felonies—in 26 city, town, and village courts.”

A contact in Auburn encouraged Bauersfeld to apply for the commissioner’s hearing officer job, citing the state’s need for more lawyers to work within the prison system. Today, he is among 16 hearing officers across 52 facilities whose background, experience, and skills are bringing more rigor and integrity to prison discipline.

“We are invested in rehabilitating prisoners, so they must trust that the system is going to work for them,” explains Bauersfeld. “Therefore, prisoners must be treated fairly, their version of the story must be heard, the process must be impartial, and appropriate penalties must be given.”


According to Nelson Bauersfeld L’14, if he and his son Brian L’04 ever go into practice together, they’ll have to call the firm Bauersfeld & Father. That’s because, in this twist of the typical legacy story, Brian got his degree first, followed by Nelson 10 years later.

Readers who attended Syracuse between 2011 and 2014 will recall Nelson, a retired school administrator who always went to class in a shirt and tie and who helped found the Veterans Issues, Support Initiative, and Outreach Network (VISION).

In a May 2014 Syracuse Post-Standard profile, Nelson recalled that a speech by Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps inspired him “to do something crazy” and “find a way to give back.” That led to his 10-year plan: get a law degree and then use it to provide pro bono assistance for veterans and others.

Nelson received his law degree—Brian hooded his father at graduation—but what about the rest of the plan?

“Since graduating, my wife, Barbara, and I moved to The Villages, a retirement community in central Florida,” says Nelson. There—in addition to typical retirement activities such as playing cards, golfing, and traveling—Nelson helps community members with their legal needs. “I do wills and trusts, advocate for people who believed they have been scammed, help military veterans secure benefits, and represent them in appeals.”

Nelson says his goal was to never make a dollar practicing law— “and I’ve succeeded!” he exclaims. “I’m very satisfied, except when paying of my student loans, but I am paying them off and enjoying my time.”

Says Brian of his father: “He’s living the dream—I’m absolutely proud of him. He’s still the smartest man I know.”

That pride is mutual, says Nelson, although it’s not without a hint of friendly family competition. “My goal at law school was to get a slightly higher GPA than Brian’s, yet he tells me he can’t remember his GPA!”