Court of Appeals Judge Theodore T. Jones, former Brooklyn justice, passes at age 68

November 6, 2012 By Michael Virtanen and Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Associated Press / Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Judge Theodore T. Jones of the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, died of an apparent heart attack Monday night at home in Rockland County, according to court officials. He became a state Supreme Court Justice in Brooklyn in 1990 and was joined the Court of Appeals in 2007 after being nominated by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Jones was co-chairman of the court’s task force on wrongful convictions, which recommended videotaping police interrogations, steps to prevent suggestive police lineups for witnesses and expanding defense access to DNA evidence. He was the current court’s only African-American and chaired its diversity committee.

“Judge Jones was a ground-breaking leader in state Supreme Court and later the state Court of Appeals, where he served as only the fourth African-American judge in the court’s 167-year history” said New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James, Jr. In 2011, the New York State Bar Association presented Judge Jones with a Lifetime Achievement Award.  

“Judge Jones was a jurist of great talent, intellect and compassion,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said. “He was also the gentlest of men, with a wonderful sunny disposition, great warmth and empathy for all.”

Jones was born in Brooklyn on March 10, 1944. His mother was a teacher, and his father worked on the Long Island Rail Road, becoming a stationmaster. He graduated from Hampton University in Hampton, Va. in 1965, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Political Science. Judge Jones served on active duty with the United States Army from 1967-1969.

While in the service, he was stationed in the Republic of Vietnam and attained the rank of captain. He graduated from St. Johns University School of Law in 1972. Upon graduation, he worked at the Legal Aid Society, focusing on criminal defense work, and in private practice. He was elected twice to the state Supreme Court.

For Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice, Sylvia Ash, Judge Jones’ death was particularly difficult. “I am almost at a loss for words. Judge Jones was a mentor to me. He showed me what it was to be a great judge. He was fair and impartial. Judge Jones was such a wonderful person. He always had a smile and was prepared to impart his wisdom on whoever would ask. I am deeply saddened. Judge Jones will be sorely sorely missed.”

Jones’ best-known case was the New York City transit strike in 2005, where Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union defied his injunction and shut down the city’s subways and buses for 60 hours shortly before Christmas. He fined the union $1 million a day for violating the state’s Taylor Law that prohibits public employees from striking. He sent union President Roger Toussaint to jail for four days for contempt of court.

Last November, he authored the Court of Appeals decision rejecting the challenge to state economic development grants brought by a taxpayer group affiliated with the tea party movement, which had wanted companies to return billions of taxpayer dollars to the state. Public benefit corporations, including New York’s Economic State Development Corp., aren’t subject to the constitutional prohibition against giving state funds to private companies and can use state money for designated public purposes, he wrote for the 6-1 majority.

“His path to becoming Chief Jurist was filled with stellar achievements along the way,” noted Monique
Holaman, assistant law clerk to Kings County Supreme Court Justice Ellen Spodek. “This is a significant
loss to the legal community in New York State.”

Judge Jones was extremely active in the legal community, serving as a member of many local bar associations. “The relationship judge had with the Brooklyn Bar Association was a special one,” said president of the Brooklyn Bar Association, Domenick Napoletano. “Judge Jones would often joke that Brooklyn’s Bar Association was his favorite out of all of the bar associations.

“Judge Jones epitomized honesty and integrity, the essential characteristics that made him and excellent judge. Personally, I lost a dear friend; someone you could talk to without any reservations. He will be dearly missed,” said Napoletano.

“It is a great loss to the Court of Appeals to the State of NY and even more it is a terrible loss to the Brooklyn legal community, said Glenn Verchick, partner at the Brooklyn law firm Werbel, Werbel & Verchick, LLP.  “Judge Jones was well known and loved in the Brooklyn. He always devoted his time and energy to all of the bar associations. He was a great person, a great lawyer and a great judge.”
Judge Jones is survived by his wife, Joan, and sons, Wesley Jones and Theodore T. Jones III, an attorney.

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