Officials mourn death of Court of Appeals justice

May 6, 2013, Albany – Governor Cuomo announces the confirmation of Sheila Abdus-Salaam as a judge on the state’s Court of Appeals.


State court system begins accepting nominees to fill vacancy left by Abdus-Salaam’s death

The first African-American women to serve on the New York State Court of Appeals was found in the Hudson River Wednesday near the shoreline at 132nd Street and pronounced dead not far from her home in Harlem.

According to The New York Times, police are treating the death of Sheila Abdus-Salaam, associate judge of the Court of Appeals, as a suicide at this stage of the investigation.

The state court system on Monday put into motion the process to find a replacement for the ground-breaking jurist.

Abdus-Salaam’s death shocked state leaders and those she worked with.

“The New York Court of Appeals was saddened to learn of the passing of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a most beloved colleague since she joined the Court in May 2013,” said Chief Judge Janet DiFiore on behalf of the entire Court of Appeals. “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. Sheila’s smile could light up the darkest room. The people of New York can be grateful for her distinguished public service. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, and we will miss her greatly.”

Abdus-Salaam was born in Washington, D.C. in 1952. She graduated from Barnard College in 1974 and received her Juris Doctorate in 1977 from Colombia Law School, later that same year she began her legal career as a staff attorney for East Brooklyn Legal Services.

She worked for the New York State Department of Law as assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights and Real Estate Financing bureaus from 1980 to 1988 and as counsel for New York City’s Office of Labor Services from 1988 to 1991.

Abdus-Salaam was elected to the New York County Supreme Court in 1993 and re-elected 2007. She was then appointed Associate Justice of the Appellate Division in 2009 by Gov. David Paterson and then to state’s highest court by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2013.

“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the State’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer. 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,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I was proud to appoint her to the state’s highest court and am deeply saddened by her passing.”

The New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination has begun the procedure of filling the open seat left by Abdus-Salaam. The Commission will solicit applications from candidates who reflect the diversity of New York, and then consider those candidates who are interested. The Commission will then recommend, based on merit, a small group of well-qualified nominees to the governor for potential selection.

“On behalf of the entire New York State Senate, we offer Ms. Abdus-Salaam’s family our condolences and our prayers during this extraordinary difficult time,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

“While they have lost a cherished member of their family, New York has lost a committed judge, public servant, and leader far too soon.”