Pioneering New York judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam found dead in Hudson River

Posted at 6:24 AM, Apr 13, 2017

(CNN) -- Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first African-American woman appointed to the New York Court of Appeals, was found dead in the Hudson River.

She was 65.

Police responded to a 911 call about a woman in the water of the Hudson around 1:45 p.m. Wednesday. They found an unconscious and unresponsive woman, who was later pronounced dead and identified as Abdus-Salaam.

The medical examiner will determine the cause of death and the incident is under investigation, according to a statement from the New York Police Department.

Abdus-Salaam had been an associate justice on the state's Court of Appeals since her confirmation in 2013.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her to the state's highest court, hailed her as a "trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all."

She had been reported missing by her husband on Tuesday, reported CNN affiliate WCBS in New York.

Abdus-Salaam's death came the same week a prominent Chicago judge was killed outside his home Monday. A suspect in that case has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Judge Raymond Myles.

'Humble pioneer'

Tributes for Abdus-Salaam poured in from New York officials.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: "She was a humble pioneer. My thoughts are with her family."

Seymour W. James Jr., attorney-in-chief at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement that her passing had left many heartbroken.

"She leaves a lasting impact on New York -- from her time as a legal services attorney fighting on behalf of low-income families, to her tenure as the first African-American woman to preside on the State's highest court."

Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), tweeted that he was devastated by the news.

Veteran judge

Born in Washington to working-class parents, Abdus-Salaam grew up with six siblings and attended the district's public schools.

She became interested in pursuing law after civil rights attorney Frankie Muse Freeman visited her high school.

Abdus-Salaam went to Barnard College for her bachelor's and later received her law degree from Columbia University.

She began her legal career at East Brooklyn Legal Services and later became an assistant attorney general in the New York State Department of Law for its Civil Rights and Real Estate Financing bureaus.

She entered her judicial career in 1991 and was appointed in 2009 by then-Governor David Patterson to the Appellate Division, First Department.

"During her time on the bench, Justice Abdus-Salaam earned the respect of all who appeared before her as a thoughtful, thorough, and fair jurist," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.