No signs of criminality in New York judge's death

Sheila Abdus-Salaam grew up in poverty with her six siblings in Washington DC, before becoming the first female Muslim judge in the United States and the first African American woman to serve on New York's highest court.

Abdus-Salaam garnered a number of legal and community awards for her service over the years, including a 2014 Trailblazers in Justice award from the state government and the 2016 Stanley H Fuld award from the New York State Bar Association.

On April 12, the New York Police Department's Harbor Unit responded to a report of a body floating by the shore in Upper Manhattan. Her family identified her and an autopsy would determine the cause of death, the spokesman said. As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the State's Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer.

She was called a "trailblazing jurist" by democratic governor Andrew Cuomo who appointed her, ABC news reported.

Seymour W. James Jr., the attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society, the nation's largest provider of free legal services, said he had first met Abdus-Salaam in the early 1980s, when she worked at the Civil Rights Bureau. Abdus-Salaam was 65 and had apparently been reported missing on Tuesday. Attempts to reach her family were unsuccessful.

Abdus-Salaam was also the first Muslim woman judge in the United States, CBS New York reports.

Abdus-Salaam, who was born Sheila Turner in 1952, was one of seven children. She began her legal career as a staff attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services and began her career as a judge in 1992, when she was elected to New York City Civil Court.

"It's a great loss to the legal community, especially the black legal community, in this country", said the Harlem attorney Kafahni Nkrumah, who met her several times socially in the Harlem offices of her close friend Lennox S Hinds, an esteemed worldwide human rights lawyer who represented Nelson Mandela and exiled the former Black Panther Assata Shakur.

The medical examiner has not determined a cause of death and an investigation is ongoing.

When Judge Rowan Wilson joined the court this year, it was the first time the state's highest court had two African-American judges serving on it.

Among her colleagues, she was admired for her thoughtfulness, her candor and her finely crafted and restrained writing style.

"All the way from Arrington, Virginia, where my family was the property of someone else, to my sitting on the highest court of the state of NY is incredible and huge", she said.

Abdus-Salaam attended Barnard College, before studying law at Columbia Law School.

It was clear that she was intelligent, serious and witty, he said at the time, according to the AP.

A police source said officers were working on the assumption that the judge took her own life, but Boyce declined to elaborate when asked about that at the news conference. "We extend our deepest condolences to her family and everyone she touched over the course of her life during this hard time".

Abdus-Salaam went on to note how unlikely her and Holder's professional achievements in law would have been four decades ago.

  • Zachary Reyes