Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers' Association

2009-03-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

Women's History Month

Chief Judge Judith Kaye retired at the end of 2008, as required by New York law.In 1983, she was the first woman appointed an Associate Judge of the Court of Appeals.In 1993, she became the first woman to serve as Chief Judge.She subsequently became the only Chief Judge to serve a full 14-year term, was reappointed, and retired after 15 years on the Court.

There have been so many tributes to Judge Kaye that another would be superfluous.It is, however, interesting to look at her tenure as indicative of how the growing presence of women on the bench might change our approach both to the law and to the administration of our courts.

A 2003 paper1argued that the presence of women Chief Justices had two types of impact:in decisions, but also in the priorities that they set in their role as court administrators.Chief Judge Kaye's career has ample examples of both.

In 2006, the New York Court of Appeals held that under the New York Constitution, the State had a rational basis for prohibiting same-sex marriage. ( Hernandez v. Robles 2006 NY Slip Op 5239; 7 N.Y.3d 338; 855 N.E.2d 1; 821 N.Y.S.2d 770; 2006 N.Y. LEXIS 1836 July 6, 2006 and related cases.) Chief Judge Kaye, joined by Judge Carmen Ciparick, filed a passionate dissent that started by focusing on the importance of the marriage relationship:

For most of us, leading a full life includes establishing a family. Indeed, most New Yorkers can look back on, or forward to, their wedding as among the most significant events of their lives. They, like plaintiffs, grew up hoping to find that one person with whom they would share their future, eager to express their mutual lifetime pledge through civil marriage.

The balance of the 27-page dissent was a meticulous and scholarly rebuttal of the constitutional reasoning of the four-judge2majority.Although Chief Judge Kaye failed to attract a majority of the New York court, her dissent was cited with approval by the majorities in both California3and Connecticut4that invalidated state bans on same-sex marriage.

Similarly, her final State of the Judiciary speech, delivered on November 12, 2008, combined a compassionate sensibility with dedication to improving the administration of justice.Highlighting her concern for families, and particularly the children, who appeared in Family Court, she announced a major effort to reorganize child welfare proceedings in the court and extolled several initiatives concerning adoption.She then moved on to initiatives in matrimonial litigation, including pilot projects to provide early mental health screening and assistance of social workers to litigants.

Her announcement of the court system's foreclosure initiative again mingled empathy for the homeowner-defendants and a regretful recognition of the economic and legal constraints on the extent of judicial remedies.

Finally, her discussion of the Criminal Court featured the "problem-solving courts" that she has championed.Her description of the first Community Court epitomizes her pragmatic approach:

Our first venture [was]aimed at partnering with the neighborhood to address the sort of repeat low-level criminal conductthat corrodes the quality of life for everyone, and sends the offender on a downward spiral of worsening, more threatening crime. We asked ourselves whetherwe could take the opportunity to stop the deadly drumbeat of drugs, crime, jail, drugs, crime, jail

Judith Kaye's legacy includes increasing the visibility and influence of women in New York's court system. One presiding justice, the chief administrative judge, and three of the four deputy chief administrative judges are women. Chief Judge Kaye's structural initiatives have the potential of being an even greater legacy, capable of changing the administration of justice across thecountry.


Ann B. Lesk 1 Turner, Robert. and Breslin, Beau. "The Impact of Female State Chief Judges on the Administration of State Courts" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia Marriott Hotel, Philadelphia, PA, Aug 27, 2003. 2009-02-06 http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p62188_index.html.

2 The majority was comprised of two men and two women.

3 In re Marriage Cases, 43 Cal. 4th 757; 183 P.3d 384; 76 Cal. Rptr. 3d 683; 2008 Cal. LEXIS 5247 (May 15, 2008).

4 Kerrigan v. Comm'r of Public Health 289 Conn. 135; 957 A.2d 407; 2008 Conn. LEXIS 385(Ct. October 28, 2008).