John F. Lawton graduated with honors from St. John's University School of Law in 1955. Following his admission to practice that year, Justice Lawton joined the law firm of Mackenzie, Smith, Lewis, Michell and Hughes in Syracuse, New York, later becoming a partner. During his years of private practice, Justice Lawton was active in the Onondaga County and New York State Bar Associations, serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the Onondaga County Bar Association, and as a Chair and an instructor in Continuing Legal Education Seminars sponsored by both Associations. Justice Lawton was active in grievance matters, serving as a member of the New York State Bar Association Special Committee that developed the Fourth Department Grievance Plan in 1974, and thereafter serving as Chair of the Fifth Judicial District Grievance Committee until 1977. He was a member of the Onondaga County Legislature from 1970 to 1977, and Chairman from 1976 to 1977. In 1982 Justice Lawton was elected to the Supreme Court, Fifth Judicial District, and, on April 1, 1986, was designated by Governor Mario Cuomo to this Court as an Additional Associate Justice. On January 1, 1994, he was designated as a member of the Constitutional Court. Since January 2000, Justice Lawton has served as a Senior Associate Justice. On October 25, 2001, the Onondaga County Bar Association presented Justice Lawton with the Ruger Award "for recognition of singularly outstanding achievement in the devotion to the principles of our system of justice." Justice Lawton served as a U.S. Army Infantry Officer during the Korean War and retired from the U.S. Army Reserve with the rank of Captain in 1965. Justice Lawton retired effective December 31, 2005.