Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Described as 'Trailblazer,' Found Dead in NY

There are no signs that a crime was committed in the death of the first black woman on NY state's highest court, police said Thursday after her body was found on the bank of the Hudson River.

Sixty-five-year-old Sheila Abdus-Salaam was the first black woman to serve on New York's highest court. An external examination found no signs of trauma and no indication of what caused her death. Police said Thursday there was no sign of foul play, but that medical examiners would perform an autopsy, The New York Times reported.

She went on to serve as a lawyer for NY state government and city's office of labour services.

One of her classmates at Columbia included former attorney Eric Holder, who was present to watch Abdus-Salaam get appointed to the Court of Appeals.

In her more than 25 years on the bench, Abdus-Salaam became known for her liberal leanings, often favoring poor and vulnerable individuals over the powerful.

Her body was found Wednesday afternoon in the Hudson River.

CBS2 NY's Tony Aiello reported that Abdus-Salaam had been reported missing a day earlier, on April 11, though it is unclear how long she had been unaccounted for. She was born in Washington, D.C., to a family with seven children and educated in public schools.

Police have determined that the judge's metro card was last swiped on Monday evening at a subway stop in midtown Manhattan.

Abdus-Salaam was pronounced dead by paramedics just after 2 pm, on a pier on the river.

Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, associate judge of the Court of Appeals, who was found dead in New York's Hudson River on Wednesday. She took her first husband's last name and continued to use it professionally after that marriage ended, according to the Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History.

She became interested in pursuing law after civil rights attorney Frankie Muse Freeman visited her high school. She was a trailblazer and "humble pioneer", according to those who knew her.

She started her career as a staff attorney for East Brooklyn Legal Services. Abdus-Salaam's death is not considered suspicious, and the investigation points to a possible suicide, the law enforcement sources said.

"Justice Abdus-Salaam has followed her inspiration by serving the public throughout her distinguished career as an attorney and jurist", James, then president of the New York State Bar Association, wrote.

"The job was not just legal, but also part social work, and some part education", she said in the profile. In her ruling, she stated nonbiological same-sex couples had the right to custody choices "by [presenting] clear and convincing evidence that all parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together".

A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia Law School, Abdus-Salaam started her law career with East Brooklyn Legal Services and served as a NY state assistant attorney general, according to the Court of Appeals website.

"Sheila Abdus-Salaam set an example for generations to come, as much for her brilliance, moral conviction, and remarkable professional achievements as for her kindness, modesty, and understated yet unfailing generosity", Lester wrote.

  • Larry Hoffman