An Interesting and Important Person

When I was 7 years old, I announced to my stunned parents that I wanted to be a theologian when I grew up. It was therefore not surprising that during my four years at Notre Dame High School my favorite class was theology. At Fordham College, after flirting with English and political science as majors, it was only a matter of time for my main course concentration and major to gravitate to philosophy.

After graduation, my father was hoping I would enter law school and was quite unhappy when I was ecstatic about being accepted into graduate school at the University of Toronto as a philosophy doctoral candidate. For him it was doubly upsetting that not only would I continue my career in philosophy but now I would be living in a foreign country perhaps permanently. Both my mom and dad pleaded with me to at least stay in the area and in the end I opted to continue my studies at Fordham University in its well-respected philosophy graduate program.

During perhaps the happiest year of studies of my life, as I reveled in both taking courses and teaching philosophy, I began to listen to the advice of both my dad and my then-roommate and lifelong friend Bill Arnone. Bill, a NYU law student at the time, insisted that I could help hundreds of people in need by changing my career path to law. I can still vividly recall the delight in my father’s eyes when I told him of my plans to embark on a legal career. “You’ll meet interesting and powerful people” he informed me. The following September I entered Fordham Law School with the sole intention of dedicating my legal career to helping poor people.

Sign Up for E-News

When I graduated law school (1974), the Legal Aid Society had invoked a hiring freeze, which delayed the beginning of my career there by three years. Finally in January of 1977, I was hired and placed in the Bronx office of what was then called the Criminal Defense Division.

Like most not for profit organizations of similar ilk, the Legal Aid Society of New York City has a board of directors composed of prominent individuals who meet on a regular basis and are entrusted with the organization’s decision-making on the highest level. As fate would have it, in 1977, I had the honor of meeting one of the new members of Legal Aid’s Board of Directors (whose initial involvement with the organization coincided with mine), an amazing lawyer by the name of Judith Kaye. She combined charm, intelligence, dedication and charisma in a remarkable presence. I felt when I met her that I finally understood what my father was referring to.

Judith Kaye was the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland and after skipping two grades in high school ended up graduating from Barnard College in 1958. During a career in journalism (Hudson Dispatch) she concurrently attended NYU Law School, graduating sixth in her class of 290 in 1962.

In 1983, when Mario Cuomo was elected New York governor, he decided to fulfill a campaign promise by appointing the first woman to New York’s highest court—the Court of Appeals. He was apparently as impressed as I was, because after interviewing her twice he didn’t hesitate to appoint Ms. Kaye to the bench. Unfortunately, as a consequence of her appointment she was required to resign from Legal Aid’s Board of Directors and our paths didn’t cross again until many years later. In 1993 she made history when the governor elevated her to Chief Judge.

Judith Kaye ended up serving longer than anyone ever had on the court. After developing a national reputation for her thoughtful and well-reasoned opinions, she was rumored to be in line for the position of United States

attorney general or even the United States Supreme Court. She declined these overtures and concentrated on her efforts to revolutionize our New York Court System. And revolutionize it she did:

• She developed specialty courts to deal with mental illness, drug abuse, and domestic violence, focusing on problem-solving as much as punishment.

• She was a trailblazer in the defense of same-sex marriage, writing a controversial opinion defending the rights of gays to marry long before the state legislature concurred.

• She made jury service applicable to every citizen regardless of occupation while also eliminating sequestration in most cases, making jury service much more doable for the working person.

• She extended the orbit of the New York State Constitution, enhancing New Yorker’s individual liberties including the right of free speech and protections against unreasonable governmental search and seizures.

• She created the Adoption Now program.

• She held the government liable for not providing public school students with the “sound basic education” required by the State Constitution.

• She lobbied for no-fault divorce laws and for lawyers to be held to a higher ethical standard.

As bold as her initiatives were, the hallmark of Judith Kaye’s tenure as chief justice will be remembered as her amazing ability to build consensus. In a world of extreme opinions, where a middle ground seems increasingly untenable, she was strong without being confrontational. She had an uncanny ability to engage without alienating. In 2008, due to the state’s mandatory retirement age, she left the bench at age 70. After continuing to practice law and advocating for the causes she believed in, Judith Kaye passed away last week at the age of 77.

She was one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. In a world dominated by people with intractable philosophies, it has become increasingly difficult to keep an open mind. Yet I try to always remember the wisdom of the Honorable Chief Judge Kaye when after her retirement she exhorted all of us dedicated to social justice:

“…we have to remain open to and ready for comprehensive innovation and change. No closed doors, no pushing people or ideas away. This is just too important. And it’s not New York…I have in mind—it’s our humanity, rationality, sanity. This is the time and the place for dramatic change. I know this is true. So do you.”

Thank You for all you have done, Chief Justice. You will forever remain an inspiration.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


God Is Just! Schneiderman Is Out!

Whenever you doubt that God is just, remember last Monday. That is the day New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned.

As you know, I have had him in my sights for a long time. He has squandered our tax dollars with more than 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration. Plus, his lawsuits against Big Oil and trying to nullify our double jeopardy laws. Most will go nowhere as ...

A Scientific Look at Decision-Making

Seven years ago, when I first began sharing my thoughts with you, I posed the question: What are the neurological mechanics of decision-making? I was referring not only to decisions about our actions, but also to the method by which we form our beliefs and preferences, political and otherwise. What inspired that inquiry, at that time, was my observation that our nation was increasingly polarized ...

Bias in Media, in Me, in You

While listening to an interview with a voter on my car radio, I thought I had excess ear wax that obstructed my hearing. The voter (whose name is Bruce) said this about one of the qualifications that a Senate or House candidate must have to earn his vote: “I don’t want anyone with ideas. We have enough of those already.”

I’m a journalist and have been one my entire ...

Cross My Legs and Hope to Die

One morning, I had a big cup of coffee as I usually do, and then I got in the car and drove 40 minutes to a clothing store I had been curious to check out. I don’t normally drive 40 minutes to go shopping, but since I am a stay-at-home mom and everyone knows we stay-at-home moms just spend our time shopping and eating bonbons, I figured, “What the hey.”

Having had the ...

Don’t Mix Politics with Business

May 17, 2018

When every year is an election year, it’s hard to avoid “talking” politics—but business leaders need to try.

The problem is that talking politics changes relationships. You quickly go from business owner or salesperson to Democrat, Republican, etc.

Putting a political sign in front of your business is a clear sign (literally) of your views. Not only do you tell your ...

Upcoming Events

Wed, May 23, 8:00 AM

Mercy College, Yorktown Heights

Business Enterprise and Employment Opportunity ...

Business & Finance

Fri, May 25, 10:30 AM

Yorktown Community Cultural Center, YORKTOWN HEIGHTS

Tai Chi for Women with Cancer

Health & Wellness

Sat, May 26, 12:00 PM

Club Fit, Jefferson Valley

Yoga for Women with Cancer

Health & Wellness

Yorktown Youth Soccer Club Roundup

May 18, 2018

YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Yorktown’s Girls U9 Team, the Hurricanes, defeated the Poughkeepsie Fireflies with a 1-0 win at Hunterbrook Field in Yorktown.

Hurricane’s goalies Cameron Parise and Avery Pugliese shut out the Poughkeepsie offense with several key saves. Yorktown controlled the ball throughout the game with outstanding performances by midfielders Samantha Nastasi, Macey ...