In Memoriam: Judith Kaye ’62, 1938-2016

Judith Kaye '62

Judith Kaye ’62, former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, passed away on January 6, 2016, at the age of 77. Kaye was a trailblazer, a brilliant jurist, a vocal advocate for reform in the New York Court system and beyond, and a dedicated NYU Law alumna.

Not only was Kaye the first woman to serve as New York's chief judge, but she held that job longer than anyone else—for 15 years until her retirement in 2008. She was known for her decisions on statutory, constitutional, and common law issues, including rights for gay people and the death penalty. Her legacy includes streamlining New York’s jury system and establishing specialized courts to focus on issues such as drug addiction, domestic violence, and mental health. She was the chief architect of the “Adoption Now” statewide initiative that brought together Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and judges and commissioners from counties across New York to finalize adoptions for more than 5,000 families and to create more effective procedures to better serve children in foster care and their families.

Before her appointment to the bench, she practiced law at Sullivan & Cromwell; IBM; and Olwine, Connelly, Chase, O’Donnell & Weyher, where she became that firm’s first female partner. After retiring from the Court of Appeals, Kaye joined Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where she focused on appellate litigation and arbitration. In addition to her JD from NYU Law, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College.

Kaye received scores of awards in her lifetime and was recognized for her judicial and scholarly accomplishments with the New York State Bar Association’s inaugural Distinguished Jurist Award, New York State Bar Association’s Gold Medal, ABA Justice Center John Marshall Award, National Center for State Courts’ William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, and the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession’s Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. A tireless public advocate, she was honored with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Adoption Excellence Award, and the New York Law Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

On top of her staggering list of professional accomplishments, Kaye was an active alumna of the Law School, serving as a trustee from 1983 to the late 1990s, and as an advisory board member of NYU Law’s Center on Civil Justice. She also served as a director of the Law School’s Institute of Judicial Administration, and was also the driving force behind the Institute’s annual Brennan Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice; she delivered the inaugural Brennan lecture in 1995, “State Courts at the Dawn of a New Century.” Kaye was the recipient of many of the Law School's most distinguished awards, including the 2014 Judge Edward Weinfeld Award, 2007 Public Interest Service Award, 1995 LAA Alumni Achievement Award, and the 1984 Arthur T. Vanderbilt Medal. 

"Judge Kaye left a profound impact on this state and our school. I am deeply grateful for her good counsel and leadership here at NYU Law," Dean Trevor Morrison stated. 

Posted January 7, 2016