ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Announces the 2016 Recipients of the John W. Cooley Lawyer as Problem Solver Award
Judith Kaye presided over the 7-member New York Court of Appeals (New York's highest court, in which she was the first woman to be appointed Chief Judge) for nearly 16 years. She was the longest-serving chief judge in New York history. In that capacity, she also supervised the $2.5 billion, 16,000 employee statewide judicial system, which she modernized by making jury service more equitable and convenient and by establishing specialized courts concerned as much with problem-solving as with punishment. In specialized courts that focused on local community quandaries and on crimes involving drugs and domestic violence, New York judges now have alternatives to sending a defendant to jail, among them ordering treatment for addiction and mental illness and providing social services for victims of abuse. As chief judge, Judith Kaye was esteemed as a collegial consensus builder, but she was also remembered for an important dissent she delivered in 2006 in Hernandez v. Robles, when a four-judge plurality ruled that same sex couples had neither a constitutional nor a statutory right to marry. Invoking the Equal Protection Clause, she wrote “I am confident that future generations will look back on today’s decision as an unfortunate misstep.” Five years later, the New York Legislature acted to legalize same sex marriage.