Chief Judge Judith Kaye '62 of the New York Court of Appeals delivered her final address on the state of the judiciary to a near-capacity crowd at the Jack H. Skirball Center for Performing Arts at NYU, saying that her successor will inherit serious challenges, many of them related to the legal fallout from the economic crisis.
She referred to a program in Queens that began in April to make sure that homeowners facing foreclosure are told that lawyers and counselors are available to help them reach settlements.
"The insight we've come to realize is that we've got to get help for these people," Kaye said. "Just mandating a conference doesn't do it."
Chief Judge Kaye delivered her remarks nine months later than has been her custom in order to demonstrate her frustration within the judiciary over the failure of lawmakers and the governor to grant judges their first pay raise since 1999.
Despite refusing to go into specifics of the lawsuit she filed last spring to force lawmakers to increase judges' salaries, she noted that even in tough fiscal times it was "heartbreaking and frustrating and demoralizing beyond description" that "our proud judiciary" had been the only part of state government to be denied "the increases they seek."
Chief Judge Kaye was the first woman to assume that post when she was elevated in 1993 after 10 years as an associate judge and is now the longest serving chief judge in the state's history. She will step down at the end of the year having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Besides presiding over the seven-member New York Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Kaye is responsible for the state's entire judiciary, which handles four million cases per year at 363 courthouses with a $2 billion budget. New York's state judiciary is considered one of the most important in the country, with a national reputation for landmark rulings.
"There can be no doubt that I have had the role of a lifetime, a privilege beyond description to labor in the cause of justice alongside the greatest people on Earth," she said.