By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Nov 6 (Reuters) - Judge Theodore Jones Jr. of
the New York State Court of Appeals has died of an apparent
heart attack, a court spokesman said. He was 68.
Jones was transported Monday night from his home in New
City, Rockland County, to a nearby hospital, where he died,
Court of Appeals spokesman Gary Spencer said on Tuesday.
"New York has lost a singular jurist and a magnificent human
being and the Court of Appeals and the entire judiciary have
lost an irreplaceable friend, who we all so dearly loved," Chief
Judge Jonathan Lippman said in a statement.
Attorneys, judges and bar groups on Tuesday praised Jones
for his intellect and careful consideration of cases, along with
what they said was his warm personality.
"He was the antithesis of pompousness and arrogance," said
Scott Mollen, an attorney with Herrick Feinstein who served with
Jones on the board of directors of St. John's University School
of Law, from which both men graduated in 1972.
Jones was the fourth black judge in the 167-year history of
the Court of Appeals and the only black judge on the current
seven-member court. The chairman of the court's Diversity
Committee, Jones had returned home Monday after participating in
a panel discussion in Rochester about jury recruitment and
"Throughout his career on the bench, (Jones) was a leader in
the promotion of diversity and equality in the state court
system and throughout the legal profession," New York State Bar
Association President Seymour James said in a statement.
Jones, whose term was set to expire in 2014, is the first
Court of Appeals judge to die in office since the court
implemented a gubernatorial appointment system in 1977, Spencer
Under state law, the Commission on Judicial Nomination,
which is comprised of attorneys and retired judges, has 120 days
to give Governor Andrew Cuomo a list of nominees to fill Jones's
seat. Cuomo then has 30 days to choose a replacement, which must
be confirmed by the state Senate.
A Brooklyn native, Jones served in the U.S. Army from 1967
to 1969. After receiving his J.D. from St. John's University
School of Law in 1972, he worked as a criminal defense attorney
for the Legal Aid Society and in private practice throughout the
1970s and 1980s.
He was elected to state Supreme Court in Brooklyn in 1990
and appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2007 by former governor
As a trial judge, Jones in 2005 presided over a high-profile
case in which he issued an injunction barring members of New
York City's Transport Workers Union from striking. The workers
defied Jones's order, shutting down the city's subways and buses
for more than two days. Jones fined the union $2.5 million and
sentenced its president, Roger Toussaint, to 10 days in jail.
During his tenure on the Court of Appeals, Jones frequently
sided in split rulings with his liberal colleagues, Lippman and
Judge Carmen Ciparick. For example, writing for the majority in
the 2011 cases People v. Ventura and People v. Gardner, Jones
found that a defendant cannot be denied an appeal solely because
he or she has been deported.
In 2008, Albany Law School professor and former Court of
Appeals clerk Vincent Bonventre wrote on his blog, New York
Court Watcher, that the percentage of criminal decisions that
favored defendants nearly doubled in the 18 months after Jones
joined the high court.
"Jones has compiled a voting record that shows strong
sympathy for arguments protecting the rights of the accused,"
wrote Bonventre, who was not available on Tuesday.
Richard Willstatter, the president of the state Association
of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Jones was "courageous and
unafraid to vindicate defendants' rights, but also very
collegial and thoughtful."
"This is a very sad time for the bench and the bar in New
York, and we have to look to the governor to try to find
somebody who could be his equal, but it will be tough," he said.
Jones was a member of the board of trustees at St. John's
University and the board of directors of St. John's School of
Michael Simons, the dean of the law school, said on Tuesday
that Jones was scheduled to be honored Wednesday night at the
school's annual Armed Forces Alumni reception.
"Judge Jones understood how the law impacted the lives of
ordinary people - and it was that understanding that animated
his public service," Simons wrote in a letter to alumni.
Jones is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Joan
Sarah Hogans, and sons Wesley Jones, a software engineer, and
Theodore Jones III, an attorney in Connecticut.
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