Home Community Honorable Judith Smith Kaye: First woman appointed to New York State’s Court of Appeals was Monticello native

Honorable Judith Smith Kaye: First woman appointed to New York State’s Court of Appeals was Monticello native

Composed by Al Dumas, the Town of Thompson Historian

In observance of Women’s History Month, we are showcasing a remarkable lady and well-known judge: The Honorable Judith Ann Smith Kaye was born in Monticello, New York, on August 4, 1938. Judith was the first woman to be designated Chief Judge and the first woman to be appointed to the Court of Appeals in New York State. But as the Historical Society of the New York Courts notes, it didn’t take long to realize that Judith was among the nation’s best jurists, male or female.

Judith was born to Mr. Benjamin Smith and Lena Cohen, Polish Jews who immigrated to the United States. The family maintained a women’s apparel store on Broadway in Monticello and also a family farm in the Maplewood neighborhood of the Town of Thompson.

Judith attended the Monticello School District, where she was a 15-year-old graduate in 1954! She attended Barnard College after high school, earning a B.A. in 1958. She later worked in the society news section of the Hudson Dispatch newspaper in Union City, New Jersey.

Judith moved on from the Dispatch to work for another journalistic organization, spending her nights at New York University Law and her days at work. Following her 1962 LL.B. (cum laude) from NYU Law, Judith spent two years working in the legal department of IBM. In 1963, she received her admission to the New York State Bar. Judith met Stephen R. Kaye at this time, and on February 11th, 1964, they were married. They eventually had three kids.

Her second job was as an associate at Olwine, Connelly, Chase, O Donnell & Weyher, a law firm, where she worked until 1975, when she became a partner—the first woman to do so.

When Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke of Monticello, Judith’s longstanding mentor and colleague, was serving as Chief Judge, Governor Mario M. Cuomo nominated Judith to serve as an Associate Judge on the New York State Court of Appeals in 1983.

On September 12, 1983, the State Senate approved Judith, making her the first female associate of the New York State Court of Appeals. Her tenure as an associate on the court was about to take a significant turn as her expertise and abilities garnered even greater recognition. Governor and soon-to-be President Bill Clinton sent an invitation to Judith to join the US Supreme Court and to serve as US Attorney General!

Judith did go to Little Rock to speak with Governor Clinton and let him know that she would rather have her heart with the State of New York’s highest court than accept consideration for both.

Governor Cuomo nominated Judith as the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for New York State on February 22, 1993. She was sworn in as the first female Chief Judge on March 23, 1993, after her confirmation by the State Senate on March 17. She would go on to become the longest-serving Chief Judge in New York State history for the next fifteen years.

Judith never forgot her beloved hometown of Monticello during her illustrious reign, making many trips there. Along with Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke, another honoree, she made a historic trip to Monticello in 1997 to attend a ceremony honoring her for the Monticello High School Wall of Distinction.

Judith went back to practicing private law after retiring in 2008, and she did so until her death in New York City on January 7, 2016.

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