Judith Kaye: A One of a Kind Role Model
Judith was the only female partner in the law firm I joined after law school. She wore bright jewel-toned suits with matching silk blouses and shoes. She wore fishnets. Red was her absolute favorite color and showed up everywhere. She signed her name with the prefix (Mrs.). She wrote post-cards when she was on the road, asking whether Saks missed her and had filed for bankruptcy in her absence.
She wasn’t the easiest of bosses, but she was a role model in so many ways. She was very female. She was pretty aggressive too. She insisted you care about words, and particularly the written word, as much as she did. She joined the Bench and became iconic. We kept in touch, and she spent time with my daughter too. She was always strategic but she was herself.
Two quick Judith stories. There was a major shipping fraud in the 1970’s and my firm represented one of the defendants. The senior and name partner of the firm was the lead; Judith was the young, working partner who knew the arguments and the facts backwards and forwards. It was a relatively high profile case and other highly regarded senior partners of other well known firms represented our co-defendants. The case went up to appeal in the Second Circuit.
As is the rule, the brief has to say on the cover who is going to argue it before the Court; our draft said the name of our senior partner. Late at night, Judith called the associates who were at the printer doing the final proofreading. She directed them to change his name to hers. With fear in their hearts, they made the change. Needless to say, she argued the case on behalf of our client. Gutsy move, but she thought she deserved it and needed to make it happen.
So, the day of argument arrives. I am sitting in the back of the courtroom. A very senior and well-respected judge is presiding. Judith, as would be expected, is wearing an emerald green silk blouse with matching green suede shoes. She arrives at the podium. Before she starts, the Judge looks down and compliments her on her shoes, asking where they came from as his wife would love a pair. I want to die. Judith, however, does not miss a beat. She sticks out her foot, smiles, and quickly agrees that her shoes are lovely. BUT then she immediately pulls her foot back, saying that they now had much more important things to discuss, and launched into her argument. It was classic Judith. I learned a lot that day.
She was a piece of work. I miss her.