Judith Kaye

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Judith Kaye
Judith S.Kaye.jpg
Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
In office
March 23, 1993 – December 31, 2008
Appointed by Mario Cuomo
Preceded by Richard D. Simons
Succeeded by Jonathan Lippman
Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
In office
Appointed by Mario Cuomo
Personal details
Born (1938-08-04) August 4, 1938 (age 76)
Monticello, New York
Alma mater Barnard College
New York University School of Law

Judith Smith Kaye (born August 4, 1938) is a retired New York judge who served as Chief Judge of New York from March 23, 1993 until December 31, 2008. She was the first woman to occupy the State Judiciary's highest office.

Early life and education[edit]

Kaye was born in Monticello, New York. She holds a B.A. from Barnard College (1958) and an LL.B from New York University School of Law (cum laude; 1962). She was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1963.

Legal career[edit]

She began her career in private practice in New York City at Sullivan & Cromwell. She subsequently moved to Olwine, Connelly, Chase, O'Donnell & Weyher (a now-defunct law firm) until her appointment to the Court of Appeals.

Tenure as Chief Judge[edit]

Under Kaye's leadership, New York State was considered a national leader in court reform efforts and in establishing problem-solving courts.[1] Working with the Fund for the City of New York,[2] she helped establish the Center for Court Innovation,[3] a non-profit think tank that although independent of the court system, serves as the judiciary's research and development arm.

As Chief Judge, she also served as:

  • Co-Chair of the "Commission on the American Jury" of the American Bar Association (2004–05)
  • Chair of the "Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children"
  • Founding Member and Honorary Chair, "Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert" (JALBCA)
  • Member of the Board of Editors, New York State Bar Journal
  • Trustee, "William Nelson Cromwell Foundation"

Kaye retired at the end of 2008, after reaching the state's mandatory retirement age of 70.[4] She gave her farewell speech on November 12, 2008.[5] Governor Paterson nominated New York State Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Lippman as her successor on January 13, 2009; the nomination required confirmation by the New York State Senate.

Later life[edit]

Kaye is now of counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York City. On March 11, 2010, Andrew Cuomo, New York's attorney general, appointed Kaye as an independent counsel to investigate Governor David Paterson's alleged violation of ethics laws, due to Cuomo's conflict of interest.[6] In that role, she was granted the authority to investigate various charges against the governor, and to bring criminal charges.[7] Her final determination pertaining to her investigation of Paterson was to not refer charges to the prosecutor's office against the sitting governor.[8][9]

Notable Opinions[edit]

  • On July 6, 2006, Kaye authored a dissent in an omnibus appeal of four same-sex marriage disputes (including Hernandez v. Robles) in which the majority ruled that the state constitution "does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex". Kaye's dissent admonished that while New York state has a tradition of upholding equal rights, "the court today retreats from that proud tradition".


She authored numerous publications—particularly articles dealing with legal process, state constitutional law, women in law, professional ethics and problem-solving courts. She has written and lectured frequently about problem-solving courts.

  1. "Delivering Justice Today: A Problem-Solving Approach" in, Yale Law & Policy Review, vol. 22, 2004
  2. "Making the Case for Hands-On Courts", Newsweek, October 11, 1999


Kaye served as President of the Conference of Chief Justices and Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Center for State Courts (2002–03). She is a founding member and honorary chair of Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert. She also is the founding Chair of the board of the New York International Arbitration Center.


In 1997, Kaye received the Edith I. Spivack Award from the New York County Lawyers' Association's Women's Rights Committee.

She is also a recipient of the Association Medal from the New York City Bar Association.


External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Richard D. Simons
Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
Succeeded by
Jonathan Lippman