Photo by Rick Kopstein/NYLJ

If we could reverse-engineer Judith Kaye, what ingredients would we find? I’m no scientist, but I am her daughter. So, employing Madeline Kahn’s analytical scheme in her unforgettable 1976 SNL spoof on the song “M-O-T-H-E-R” (why were my brothers and I, at ages 7, 9 and 11 awake and watching this…with our parents?!):

“M” is for Monticello, the Borscht Belt town from which my first-generation-American mother hails, where she lived on a farm, skipped right from kindergarten to third grade in a one-room schoolhouse and worked in her parents’ dry goods store from well before a legally-permissible age. There is no doubt in my mind that my mother’s unbelievable work ethic, compassion, humility (see “H,” infra), creativity and practicality derive directly from her upbringing in that town. “M” is also for Mellifluous, Magnanimous and “Mother of Justice” (as one prisoner addressed her in correspondence).

“O” is for Optimism. My mother has often said that the only way to assure failure is to stop trying. Optimism about her own abilities and ideas and the capabilities and motivations of others has fueled my mother’s efforts to overcome seemingly entrenched hurdles, to develop the common law and to create institutions—such as the Commercial Division, the Children’s Centers in the Courts and the New York International Arbitration Center—and to transform others, such as jury service.

“T” is for Tenacity and Tirelessness. Proof of that? Well, it’s res ipsa loquitur (you mean the work-week only has five days?). When she was chief judge, and thus at the helm of both the New York State court system and the Court of Appeals, she famously quipped that each job took about 80 percent of her time. And she gladly gave it.

“H” is for Humility (although she did refuse until very recently to get a Senior Citizen MetroCard), Honesty, and also Hockey. Sure, my mother venerates Cardozo and Brennan, but she also lives by the words of the great Gretzky: “I always want to skate where the puck is going to be.”

“E” is for Education, which was key to my mother’s achievement of her dreams and which she has championed with her School-Justice Partnership Task Force as a key for keeping kids out of the courts. “E” is also for Engagement, on a cellular level, with the practice of law and justice. She and my father, who shared this passion, even went to court on vacation in foreign countries. It was a special treat to find a trial or argument to sit in on, regardless of whether they understood the language being spoken.

“R” is for Respectfulness and Rationality. Aside from the obvious human virtues of these characteristics, my mother’s respect for others’ thoughts and opinions and her intensely practical thinking (“does it make sense” is a test that any argument must pass), makes her jurisprudence thoroughly compelling, cohesive and fair.

“R” is decidedly not, however, for Retiring. This concept is not in my mother’s vocabulary, much less her DNA. I mean, seriously, who retires to Skadden Arps?

Luisa K. Hagemeier is a partner at Putney Twombly Hall & Hirson.


Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

LL.B., New York University School of Law, 1962

The first woman to serve on New York’s Court of Appeals with her appointment in 1983 by Governor Mario Cuomo; first woman and longest serving chief judge, 1993 to 2008

• First female partner at Olwine, Connelly, Chase, O’Donnell & Weyher.

• Founding member and honorary chair of Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert.

• Member of the Board of Editors for the New York State Bar Journal.

• Author of more than 200 publications.

• Wrote notable decisions on a wide variety of statutory, constitutional and common law issues including rights for gay couples and the death penalty.

• Streamlined New York’s jury system and established specialized courts to focus on issues such as drug addiction, domestic violence and mental health issues.

• Her reforms have been implemented by many other state courts.

• Created the Adoption Now program that has produced more effective procedures for children in foster care and their families.

• Has acted as an arbitrator or panel chair in a broad spectrum of international and U.S. commercial disputes.