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Judith Kaye, New York's First Female Chief Judge, Dies At 77

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Judith Kaye, the first woman appointed to New York's top court and later its chief judge, has died. She was 77.

Her death Wednesday night was confirmed Thursday by the state court system.

Kaye lived in Manhattan.

The cause of her death wasn't initially available.

Judith Kaye Swears In David Paterson
New York governor David Paterson is sworn in by Chief Justice Judith S. Kaye while wife Michelle Paige Paterson looks at the Assembly Chamber of the Capitol March 17, 2008 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

First appointed to the bench in 1983, Kaye was named chief judge of the Court of Appeals by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1993. Her predecessor, Sol Wachtler, resigned amid federal charges he threatened a former lover and her daughter.

Kaye was chief judge until her mandatory retirement at age 70 in 2008.

Judith Kaye Swears In Mayor Michael Bloomberg
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is sworn in by New York State Judge Judith S. Kaye as Bloomberg's mother Charlotte Bloomberg holds the bible during a ceremony on the steps of City Hall 01 January, 2002 in New York City. (Photo Matt Campbell/AFP/Getty Images)

State Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says Kaye was "a towering figure in New York State.'' She cited Kaye's work on a range of issues, including juvenile justice, rights for gay couples, capital punishment, domestic violence, chemical addiction and mental health.

Acting Chief Judge Eugene Pigott, Jr. said Kaye "has been an inspiration to all of us who were privleged to know her and she will be greatly missed."

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Kaye "one of the most respected judicial innovators of our time."

"Her early and strong support for problem-solving courts, such as the Midtown Community Court that helped clean up Times Square, played an important role in making New York a national leader in reducing crime and recidivism," Bloomberg said. "I was lucky to call her a friend, and the city and state will benefit from her leadership for decades to come."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered flags on all state government buildings to be flown at half-staff on Friday in Kaye's honor.

"Kaye was a force for progress who had a profound impact on our state," Cuomo said in a statement. "She stood for justice and equality for all people, and embodied the spirit of integrity in public service like none other. Chief Judge Kaye's passing is a true loss to our state, and I have no doubt that her legacy will continue to be felt for years to come."

Mayor Bill de Blasio also ordered for flags on all city buildings to be lowered to half-staff on Friday, January 8.

"Chirlane and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Judith Kaye. Judith was a trailblazer for women – she was not only the first woman on the New York State Court of Appeals, but also the State's first female Chief Judge, " de Blasio said in a statement. "We offer our condolences to Judith's family, and to all New Yorkers, who have lost a truly steadfast champion for justice."

Born in the Sullivan County town of Monticello on Aug. 4, 1938, Kaye was the daughter of Jewish parents who emigrated from Poland because of religious oppression, according to her official biography on the court system website.

She graduated from Barnard College in 1958 and the New York University School of Law in 1962. Her first job as a lawyer was as an associate at the Manhattan firm Sullivan and Cromwell. Kaye went on to work for a year in the IBM legal department and then as a commercial litigator at a firm whose clients included the Lionel Corp., the New York Produce Exchange, Ralston Purina Co., the Singer Co. and U.S. Industries, according to the biography.

Her judicial career began after Cuomo's campaign promise to appoint the first woman to the Court of Appeals. After a tumultuous selection process, she was nominated by the governor and unanimously confirmed by the state Senate in September 1983.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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