Judith Kaye, NY’s First Female Jewish Chief Justice, Dies at 77

Judith Kaye, the first woman to serve as Chief Judge of New York State, has died at age 77, a spokesman for the Court of Appeals said Thursday morning.

Justice Kaye, the daughter of Lena and Benjamin Smith and a member of the Sephardic Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, was first appointed on the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, by Governor Mario Cuomo soon in 1983. In 1993, Cuomo appointed her as chief judge. She served as Chief Justice for 15 years before she retired in December of 2008.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, the son of the Late Mario Cuomo, has directed that flags on all state government buildings be flown at half-staff on Friday in honor and memory of Chief Judge Kaye.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Chief Judge Judith Kaye. Throughout her more than 25 year career in public service, Chief Judge Kaye was a force for progress who had a profound impact on our state,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Over the course of that distinguished career, she was an exemplary role model for women everywhere. She was an outspoken opponent of the death penalty, believed in the fundamental promise of equal rights for all New Yorkers, and dedicated herself to strengthening our judicial system and our juries, along with many other worthy causes.”

“She stood for justice and equality for all people, and embodied the spirit of integrity in public service like none other. Chief Judge Kaye’s passing is a true loss to our state, and I have no doubt that her legacy will continue to be felt for years to come,” the governor added.

Former Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg also released a statement mourning Kaye’s death. “Judith Kaye was not only the longest serving Chief Judge in New York State history, and not only the first woman to hold the post; she was also one of the most respected judicial innovators of our time,” said Bloomberg. “Her early and strong support for problem-solving courts, such as the Midtown Community Court that helped clean up Times Square, played an important role in making New York a national leader in reducing crime and recidivism. I was lucky to call her a friend, and the city and state will benefit from her leadership for decades to come.”

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