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Judge Abdus-Salaam remembered as a “trailblazer” in legal community

April 13, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam’s body was found floating in the Hudson River on Saturday, but she will be remembered for her strong legacy of work from the bench and as a community advocate by the local legal community. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam died tragically on Wednesday and left behind a Brooklyn legal community that will remember her as a “trailblazer” and a great judge.

“This is a tragic loss,” said Michael Cibella, president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association. “Judge Abdus-Salaam was a sharp, fair-minded jurist and consummate professional who was always mindful of the impact of the law upon the everyday person. She was an inspiration to so many and will be sadly missed.”

Abdus-Salaam was found dead on Wednesday on the bank of the Hudson River near Harlem, where she lived, a day after she was reported missing by her husband, according to police. NYPD officers said that her body showed no obvious signs of trauma, but they would not speculate on how, exactly, she died until the medical examiner determined the cause of death.

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“My deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a pioneering jurist who started her distinguished career in Brooklyn,” said Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “Her death is a devastating loss to the entire legal community and to all New Yorkers.”

Abdus-Salaam, who was 65 years old, became the first African-American woman to be appointed to the NYS Court of Appeals by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013, who called her, “a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come.”

“On behalf of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, I would like to express our deepest sympathy at the loss of Judge Abdus-Salaam,” said Sara Gozo, president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association.

Prior to joining the Court of Appeals, she served as an associate justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department for four years and served in the Manhattan state Supreme Court for more than 14 years before that. Abdus-Salaam got her start as a staff attorney for East Brooklyn Legal Services after she got her law degree from Columbia Law School, and her undergraduate degree from Barnard College.

“Her personal warmth, uncompromising sense of fairness and bright legal mind were an inspiration to all of us who had the good fortune to know her,” said Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in a statement.

Abdus-Salaam was a member of the various local bar associations and appeared most recently at the Rapallo Awards hosted by the Columbian Lawyers Association, First Department, last Friday.

A member of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association (MBBA), Abdus-Salaam was honored by with its Jurist of the Year Award in 2014.

“The MBBA knew Judge Abdus-Salaam not only as a jurist, but also as a stellar public interest lawyer committed to achieving justice through her work with East Brooklyn Legal Services Corp., the City Law Department and the NYC Office of Labor Services,” said Paula Edgar, on behalf of the MBBA. “As a member, she was a strong advocate and supporter of the MBBA and role model to all who knew her.

“She will be fondly remembered and deeply missed,” Edgar continued. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Judge Abdus-Salaam’s family and as soon as it is available, we will forward information on funeral and memorial arrangements as well as any preferred charity designated for donations in her memory.”

Correction: In an article published online Thursday, April 13, 2017, the late Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was referred to as the first female Muslim judge based upon several sources who mistakenly thought that the judge took her husband’s religion after marriage. Based upon further reporting, the Brooklyn Eagle determined that Judge Abdus-Salaam never confirmed this publicly.

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