The New York Times is reporting the sad death of former Chief Judge Judith Kaye. It’s a great loss, and the Times obituary accurately recounts her enormous contributions to New York Law and its courts.
I feel compelled to add two perhaps less obvious things. Judge Kaye, perhaps more than any Chief Justice in the country, transformed how Chiefs, and indeed other judges, think about their roles. She showed that one could continue to be a strongly neutral judge in applying the law, while being a powerful advocate for changes in the legal system at all levels. I remember watching her at a Conference of Chief Justices Meeting personally buttonholing Chiefs (who respected and loved her deeply) to come to a national summit on children’s issues. It was, as anyone who has dealt with her must know, a hard request to reject, no less for the gentleness with which it was made. This change in the perception of what Chiefs can do will have an ongoing impact for many many years, and make possible much change.
Secondly, part of why she was able to be so effective was her absolute personal authenticity. You always knew where you stood with the Chief, and she made no effort to conceal how much she cared about things, and about how important it was to take full advantage of any opportunity to make things better for those at the bottom. When her beloved husband died, she kept going, but you did not have to know her very well to know how very hard it was, and how she felt no alternative but to do so.
Chief, we salute you, your achievements, your humanity, and your memory. We will miss you.
P.S. Please note that a fund in honor of Judge Kaye has been set up, the Judith S. Kaye Scholarship Fund. As their website explains:
To honor Former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s commitment to improve the lives and life chances of the children who come before the New York State Courts, a scholarship fund has been established at the request of the family. The Scholarship will support youth in foster care who are attending college.