Judge Theodore Jones Jr., a sweet man known as “Teddy” to his friends, was remembered yesterday both for his passion for justice and his dedication to promoting diversity in the courts during the nearly six years he spent as an associate judge of the Court of Appeals.

Jones, 68, died of an apparent heart attack after becoming ill late Nov. 5 at his home in New City, Rockland County, according to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Jones’ death surprised his friends and colleagues, who said he was a robust, jovial judge.

“He was the picture of health,” said Brooklyn attorney Dominick Napoletano, a friend. “He was fit and trim. He exercised. He was an avid golfer. No one could have fathomed this happening to him.”

Lippman said it was difficult to think of Jones, with his ever-present laugh and good nature, as being ill.

“He looked so good and he felt so good,” Lippman said. “He was someone who was very active.”

Jones spent Nov. 4 and most of Nov. 5 in Rochester. He dined on Nov. 4 with officials from the Monroe County Bar Association and on Nov. 5 met with groups of students from Monroe County Community College and local high schools at events to promote diversity in the courts, said Judge Craig Doran, the administrative judge for the Seventh Judicial District.

Doran said that if Jones was not feeling well, he did not say so.

“He seemed fine and he had a great day,” Doran said. “He engaged a lot of young people, had some very meaningful discussions about his history as a judge, as an African-American. It was a very, very uplifting day. When I left him at the airport, he said he couldn’t wait to come back.”

R. Nadine Fontaine, president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, said Jones was a strong supporter of the organization, “a great jurist and a wonderful friend.” She said Jones was the impetus behind building relationships with the majority bar associations.

“He was instrumental in bringing us together,” Fontaine said. “He was always trying to get us to programs together, to work with the majority. It really started with him.”

Jones was chairman of the Court of Appeals’ diversity committee. He also was cochairman of Lippman’s Justice Task Force, whose mission is to find ways to reduce wrongful convictions.

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, the cochair of the task force, called Jones a “magnificent man” who acted as a consensus builder on the panel.

“He was temperate, he was judicious, he was careful to listen to everyone’s views,” said DiFiore, whose voice cracked yesterday in an interview as she remembered the judge.

DiFiore said Jones, a one-time Legal Aid attorney, was especially troubled by wrongful convictions (NYLJ, July 15, 2009).

“He was deeply moved by making sure that justice was served by increasing the accuracy of the criminal justice system and to make sure that in every trial we got it right,” DiFiore said. “He was very passionate and he worked very hard to make sure our work in the wrongful conviction area was effective and authentic and really moved the justice dial in the right direction.”

Lippman called Jones “one of the sweetest, nicest, most engaging people you could ever meet” and said his death was a “tragedy” for both the Jones family and the New York state court system.

‘Empathy Toward People’

The chief judge said he felt Jones’ life to a great extent was shaped by his service in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1969 in Vietnam. He rose to the rank of captain during the war.

“I think it made him appreciate the value of life, the value of camaraderie with other human beings,” Lippman said. “He knew what it was like to be part of an ensemble cast. I think it showed in his empathy toward people.”

Read Lippman’s statement.

Jones hugged or shook the hands of about a dozen graduates of the Rochester Veterans’ Drug Treatment Court on Nov. 5, Doran said. He told them and their families how important his experience as a soldier was in his own life and stressed the obligation that the courts have to try to help troubled veterans rebuild their own lives.

Former chief judge Judith Kaye, who served on the court with Jones from 2007 until her retirement at the end of 2008, was one of several colleagues and attorneys who remarked on how deceptive Jones’ quiet demeanor during oral arguments could be.

Jones rarely questioned litigants during arguments. But Kaye and others said that should not be misconstrued as being detached or uninformed about the legal questions before him.

While “he didn’t ask a lot, he did ask when he needed to ask and he asked good, provoking, challenging questions,” Kaye said yesterday. “He certainly was not silent and was a great contributor around the conference table. That smile, pure Ted Jones, was very infectious and calmed down a lot of arguments.”

Then Chief Judge Judith Kaye swears in Judge Jones on Feb. 13, 2007 in Albany. Photo: Dave Oxford

One of Kaye’s fondest memories of Jones stems from a time she came to an event in Albany after retiring. Kaye’s husband, Stephen Rackow Kaye, had recently died and she had given Jones some of her husband’s unused bow ties.

Kaye said she noticed immediately that he was wearing one of the ties, and a big smile, when he saw her.

“That was the sweetest, most thoughtful, thing that he would take the care and time to wear one of my late husband’s bow ties, knowing how much it would please me,” Kaye said. “But Ted was like that.”

Acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Barry Kamins said Jones preferred to “sit back and listen rather than become engaged in the question-and-answer scenario” in oral arguments before the court.

“The fact that he didn’t ask as many questions as his colleagues doesn’t mean he was not engaged,” Kamins said. “He was clearly on the top of his game at the Court of Appeals. He was sharp and very, very much ahead of the lawyers on many of the issues.”

Jones was recognized as part of the liberal wing of the Court of Appeals, where he was often allied philosophically with Lippman and Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick.

Vincent Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School, said Jones often sided with criminal defendants in cases where he felt judges, police or prosecutors had overstepped their authority.

“Between being a law-and-order judge or a due-process judge, he was definitely on the side of due process,” Bonventre said.

Jones wrote the majority decisions on several significant cases at the Court of Appeals, including In re World Trade Center Bombing Litigation Steering Committee v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in which the Port Authority was absolved of liability for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (Sept. 23, 2011), and Jiovon Anonymous v. City of Rochester, in which Rochester’s curfew for teens was ruled unconstitutional (NYLJ, June 10, 2009).

See more majority opinions and dissents by Jones.

Jones was nominated to the Court of Appeals in January 2007 by Eliot Spitzer and confirmed the following month by the state Senate. Jones succeeded Albert Rosenblatt, a former district attorney who was recognized as being more conservative than Jones.

Jones had been elected to the Supreme Court from Brooklyn in 1989 and reelected in 2003.

As a trial judge, Jones was best known for his handling of the 2005 Christmas-season transit strike in New York City. Jones strictly applied the Taylor Law, which prohibits strikes by public employees, and held union leader Roger Toussaint in contempt of court when members of the transit union walked off their jobs.

Jones imposed a $1 million-a-day fine on the union and docked striking workers two day’s pay for each day they struck.

Shortly after, he was promoted by the Office of Court Administration to Brooklyn administrative judge for the Supreme Court’s civil term.

Jones was a Brooklyn native who grew up in Queens. His mother was a teacher and his father worked for the Long Island Rail Road. He graduated from Hampton University in Virginia in 1965. After serving in the Army, he graduated from St. John’s University School of Law in 1972.

He spent two years with the criminal division of the Legal Aid Society, clerked for a Court of Claims judge and practiced law in Brooklyn before his election to the Supreme Court.

Jones was also a member of the Second Department’s character and fitness committee from 1978 to 1990 and taught as an adjunct professor at the City University of New York and St. John’s University School of Law.

He is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Joan Sarah Hogans, and two sons, Theodore Jones III, an attorney, and Wesley Jones.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday, Lippman said.