New York State Appeals Court Judge Found Dead In Hudson River

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A New York State Court of Appeals judge was found dead in the Hudson River offshore from Harlem Wednesday.

Around 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, police were called to the Hudson River at 132nd Street and found Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam, 65, unconscious and unresponsive in the water, the NYPD said.

Abdus-Salaam’s body was removed from the water and she was pronounced dead by the FDNY EMS at 125th and Marginal streets, police said.

Police sources said Abdus-Salaam’s husband had reported her missing from her Harlem home earlier, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported. She was reported missing Tuesday, police said.

There were no signs of trauma reported, and police late Wednesday did not believe her death was criminal, sources said.

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement calling Abdus-Salaam “a trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all.”

“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the State’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” Cuomo said in the statement. “Through her writings, her wisdom, and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come.”

Abdus-Salaam was also the first Muslim woman judge in the United States.

In a tweet, Mayor Bill de Blasio called Abdus-Salaam a “humble pioneer.”

Former New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said in a statement that Abdus-Salaam was “a superb jurist and even more superb human being.

“I knew her for many, many years. To some degree, we grew up together in the court. I’ve known her in all her different roles in the court. It’s just so shocking. She was a very gentile, lovely lady and judge. If you ask anyone about her, people would say only the most wonderful things,” Lippman said in the statement. “That’s why it makes it even more difficult to understand.”

New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said Abdus-Salaam’s “personal warmth, uncompromising sense of fairness, and bright legal mind were an inspiration to all of us.”

The LGBT civil rights organization Lambda Legal noted that just last August, Abdus-Salaam wrote “the ground-breaking decision in Lambda Legal’s case that cleared the way for LGBT parents and other parents with no biological ties to seek parenting rights to their children on equal footing with biological parents.”

“Judge Abdus-Salaam saw clearly how damaging it was to keep LGBT parents from their children,” Lambda Legal director of constitutional litigation Susan Sommer said in a statement. “We owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude. She touched the lives of many New Yorkers; her legacy will live on.”

The New York State Bar Association also released a statement, noting that Abdus-Salaam had grown up poor in a family of seven children, and had gone on to become one of the seven judges on the highest court in the state. The organization recalled Abdus-Salaam’s words when she was recognized last year with the prestigious Stanley H. Fuld Award.

“At the time, Justice Abdus-Salaam said that, as a judge, she listens and wants people to know they are being heard ‘whether I agree with them or not.’” Bar Association President Claire P. Gutekunst said in a statement. “Listening to the voices seeking justice was a hallmark of her remarkable career as an attorney and as a judge.”

Seymour W. James Jr., attorney in chief at the Legal Aid Society, called Abdus-Salaam “a judicial stalwart renowned for her intellect, and commitment to the law, morality, fairness, and justice.”

Abdus-Salaam, a native of Washington, D.C., graduate from Barnard College in 1974 and received her J.D. from Columbia Law school in 1977, according to her New York court system biography.

She began her career as a staff attorney at East Brooklyn Legal Services, served as an assistant attorney general in the New York State Department of Law, Civil Rights and Real Estate Financing bureaus, and served as general counsel for the New York City Office of Labor Services.

Abdus-Salaam was elected as a New York City civil court judge in 1991, and was elected to Manhattan Supreme Court in 1993. She was appointed as an associate justice of the appellate division by Gov. David Paterson in 2009, and was appointed to the Court of Appeals — the state’s highest court — by Cuomo four years later.

Then-Attorney General Eric Holder was there for Abdus-Salaam’s 2013 swearing in. he called her “a champion for the cause of justice.”

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