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OPINION: Law Day 2016

May 6, 2016 By Chief Judge Janet DiFiore For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. Photo courtesy of the Office of Court Administration
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As many of you know, Law Day had its genesis in 1958 — as an occasion to celebrate our democratic society’s commitment to the rule of law.  And every year since, the American Bar Association has selected a theme to set the agenda for events across the country. The theme this year is “Miranda: More Than Words,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of Miranda v. Arizona.  

Now, this year, here at the Court of Appeals, our Law Day celebration has a special significance. We are paying special tribute to our late, great Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, who probably loved Law Day more than anyone I can think of. She loved the pomp and ceremony and patriotism of the celebration. She personally planned each Law Day down to the smallest detail, from the color scheme and graphic design of the program, to who would be invited to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “America the Beautiful.”  And at Judge Kaye’s insistence, and weather permitting, Law Day was celebrated outside on the courthouse steps.  

Every American is familiar with the words of Miranda — words intended to ensure that every person in police custody understands that he or she has the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police, to have an attorney present during police questioning and to have an attorney appointed by the court if he or she cannot afford one.  At the most basic level, the procedural protections of Miranda recognize that our system of justice cannot work as intended without lawyers to balance the scales of justice, particularly when the enormous power of the state is moved against the lone individual in our society.  

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Our former chief had a great appreciation for the importance of lawyers in our society and particularly, in our criminal justice system. In People v. Garcia, Judge Kaye described the right to counsel as “inviolable and fundamental to our form of justice,” and in her dissenting opinion in People v Bing, she described it as a “jealously guarded, cherished principle, so fundamental that the highest degree of vigilance would be exercised in its defense.” Judith Kaye believed that lawyers — whether in Criminal Court or Family Court or our Civil and Commercial courts — are indispensable to the pursuit of justice, and that every judge and lawyer has an important part to play in keeping the scales of justice balanced, and making the rule of law a reality.  

We certainly know that Kaye’s decisions will stand the test of time, as will her historic leadership of the New York courts for 16 years. But in the end, it is Judith Kaye the person, the woman — with her unique character and commitment to justice, that will always stay with us.  She devoted herself, with every fiber of her being, to serving the courts and the public good — and she was successful, by every measure, in pursuit of those goals.  

Her defining vision was to improve the experience of every citizen who entered a courthouse in New York state, and she communicated and pursued that vision with great passion, integrity and single-minded determination — she inspired everyone she came into contact with.  

In countless direct and indirect ways, Judith S. Kaye bettered the lives of millions of ordinary people seeking justice in our courts.  On this Law Day 2016, we honor her for showing us all what it means to pursue justice under the rule of law for all New Yorkers — and that the pursuit and achievement of justice is, indeed, more than just words.


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