Edward Koch, who presided over New York City as mayor during 12 tumultuous years in the late 1970s and 1980s, died this morning of congestive heart failure.

Koch, a partner at Bryan Cave, prolific author, radio host and media personality, was 88.

The flamboyant and outspoken Koch reveled in being “Hizzoner” in ways that sometimes overshadowed his accomplishments at City Hall, but legal observers said today that he deserves lasting credit for instituting and sticking to a system of appointing New York City judges based on their legal abilities and not their political allegiances.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile) noted that Koch often said he was most proud of the “progressive and ground-breaking process” he implemented for making mayoral appointments to the bench. While other mayors had used independent review panels to screen judicial nominees for Family Court, Criminal Court, and interim Civil Court positions, observers said Koch’s advisory committee for the judiciary considered the merits of a broad pool of applicants who often had no political background or connections.

In addition, Koch agreed to appoint only candidates approved by the New York City Bar’s Judiciary Committee.

“That reform has produced hundreds of outstanding judges over the past decades, and will continue to do so for years to come,” Lippman said in a statement. “All New Yorkers owe him a debt of gratitude for this enduring reform.”

During his three terms in office, Koch appointed 140 judges. Among those given their start by him are Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, who just retired after more than 18 years on the Court of Appeals; Justice L. Priscilla Hall of the Appellate Division, Second Department (See Profile); Judy Harris Kluger, chief of policy and planning for the Unified Court System; and Robert Johnson, current the Bronx district attorney.

Koch even appointed Judith Scheindlin to the Family Court in 1982. She is now TV’s “Judge Judy.” Koch himself presided over TV’s “The People’s Court” for two seasons after leaving office.

In 2008, more than 60 current and former Koch appointees attended a dinner in Manhattan to thank him for giving them a start in their judicial careers.

“I know of no other public official that a group of judges chose to honor because of his appointments to the bench,” said an organizer of the event, Brooklyn Criminal Court Judge Alan Marrus (See Profile), adding that he had no political connections when he applied to become a judge. “The outpouring of affection was tremendous. He reveled in it.”