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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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A Time of Change for Ex-|New York Chief Judges

MANHATTAN (CN) - Hours after New York's chief judge announced his big move to a prominent international law firm, his glass-ceiling-shattering predecessor died Thursday.

The day began when Judge Jonathan Lippman announced his move to the litigation and trial department of Latham & Watkins, a Los Angeles-based law firm employing roughly 2,000 lawyers across three continents.

Lippman will serve in its largest office here in New York following six years as chief judge and four decades on the bench.

"I also enthusiastically anticipate working with clients facing difficult legal challenges, and enhancing even further Latham's leading pro bono platform to continue to focus on access to justice for all the underserved and those most in need," he said in a statement.

Before his move into the private sector, Lippman had recently made headlines for his support for Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit group dedicated to studying alternatives to incarceration.

The Honorable Judith Kaye, who died shortly after Lippman's announcement at the age of 77, blazed a trail for this approach to criminal justice when she became the first woman to occupy two of the highest positions of the state judiciary.

In 1983, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo nominated her as the first female associate judge of the state's Court of Appeals, a position that she held for a decade before the governor nominated her again for chief judge.

She would head New York's judiciary for 15 years to become the longest-serving chief judge in the history of the state, a record that beat dozens of male predecessors since 1847.

But Kaye was known for far more than her stamina in office.

In 2006, a plurality of her colleagues rejected same-sex marriage in New York in the case of Hernandez v. Robles, and Kaye wrote a stinging dissent warning her colleagues that they would be on the wrong side of history.

"I am confident that future generations will look back on today's decision as an unfortunate misstep," she wrote in her concluding paragraph.

Outside her legal opinions, Kaye had a reputation for establishing special courts to combat drug addiction and domestic violence in an effort to remove these cases from the traditional criminal justice system.

The district attorneys of Manhattan and Brooklyn both mourned her passing in emotional statements.

"Judith's death breaks the hearts of everyone who knew her," Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance said in a statement. "She will be remembered not just as a highly respected jurist, but as a trailblazer in the legal profession and a powerful advocate for women, gay couples, and her colleagues in the judiciary."

Calling her an "exceptional public servant and dear friend," Vance offered condolences to her surviving children and grandchildren.

For Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, Kay was "truly an innovator and pioneer who dedicated her life to improving our court system and to ensuring equal justice for all."

"From the implementation of specialized courts to her push for a judicial bench that is a true reflection of New York's diverse communities, Justice Kaye has left a legacy of outstanding public service," he said.

Kaye is survived by her daughter Louisa Kaye Hagemeier, sons Jonathan Kaye and Gordon Kaye, seven grandchildren and brother Allen Smith.

Lippman, who formally retired on New Year's Eve, noted that he worked 12 years with Kaye and called her a "mentor and dear friend."

"Judge Kaye's brilliant judicial mind and record in New York will impact the state's citizens for years to come," he said. "She was keenly aware of and responsive to the issues of the community and nation at large. She leaves behind an indelible imprint on New York's judiciary and our community."

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