The tribute in the February 2016 Bar Journal to former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye overlooked an important part of her legacy.
Judge Kaye's "passion," as she termed it, was her work to improve the lives of New York's children and families. Judge Kaye raised the stature of the "quintessentially important" Family Court by valuing the work of the judges, attorneys, court personnel and the myriad agencies and professionals that help families in times of crisis. She also was the special editor for not one but two special issues of the Bar Journal, devoted to New York's Children, the last, in 2008 entitled "Our Children, Our Future".
Since 1992, Judge Kaye chaired the Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, first as an Associate Judge and continuing through her years as Chief Judge. After her mandatory retirement, she continued as chair while at Skadden. For nine years, I have had the privilege to work beside her. Her active participation and support, willingness to lend her stature, credibility and her incredibly passionate voice to the issues we addressed made the difference in what the Commission has been able to achieve.
Focusing on the educational needs of children in out-of-home care - including championing state support for their higher education success, addressing issues regarding children with incarcerated parents, and creating Children's Centers in the courts are a few of the projects undertaken by the Commission. Recently, our attention has focused on the school-to-prison pipeline, and the negative consequences of punitive and exclusionary discipline and arrest in schools. One highlight was the convening of chief justices and education leaders from 45 jurisdictions, the first National Summit on School-Justice Partnerships: Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court, with the unforgettable image of Judge Kaye ringing the bell - from the one room schoolhouse she attended - to call the summit to order. As late as last week, our conversation was about "what else should we be doing."
Among the many things she was professionally, I would be remiss to omit that she was a wonderful person, colleague and beloved friend.
I close with her words, a final call to all of us to continue her legacy:
" If you have heard me speak before, it's likely that you have heard me say that our work and our purpose are so important because what we do today - what we do right now - for our children as well as what we plan to do effects 'our children's future - and ours too.' So let's get to work."
Kathleen R. DeCataldo, Esq.
New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children
150 State Street
Albany, New York 12207