Why I Nominated Ted Jones to New York’s Highest Court

How to Make Government Work
Nov. 16 2012 5:39 PM

What Makes a Good Judge? Why Ted Jones Had Exactly the Right Qualities.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Ted Jones in December 2005

Photo by Paul Martinka/Getty Images.

Over the course of this year, Viewpoint has covered all kinds of stories about judges and the decisions they render—good, bad, and ugly. Sometimes the good decisions are new and innovative—a step forward in civil rights or economic justice. Sometimes they are just a reaffirmation of longstanding principles. After 25-plus years as a lawyer, prosecutor, and defense attorney, I have developed a deep appreciation for both the wisdom of the law and the role that jurists play in framing the rights and responsibilities that define our society. 

What is it that makes a good judge? There is no one-dimensional answer, of course. But today I had the sad responsibility of delivering a eulogy for a good judge, an individual I appointed to New York's highest court in 2007. 


Judge Ted Jones first came to my attention in 2005, when he presided over litigation surrounding a New York transit strike. If there was a thankless task, that case defined it. But with clarity of purpose, Judge Jones presided over this controversy just as he had over countless others: firmly and fairly. In the midst of the storm of voices, claims, and upset that define an event of this magnitude, Judge Jones was the voice of calm, of reason, and he was unquestionably in charge. Demeanor matters, and judicial demeanor is quite distinct from what may be appropriate in other arenas. 

It was not until December 2006 that I met Judge Jones. I had been elected governor, and I had the unique privilege of filling a vacancy on New York's highest court. When Judge Jones came in for his interview, I could tell what he was thinking: There is no way you are nominating me for this position. 

Truth be told, I was thinking pretty much the same thing. Why? He didn't have any of the traditional privileged pedigree in terms of college, law school, big-firm practice, or service as a prosecutor in an elite office.

What did he have? He had grown up on the streets, worked his way through college, was ROTC and served in Vietnam—rising to the rank of captain, brooked no excuses for failure, and had an abiding sense of fairness.

When he walked out of my interview with him, I can tell you exactly what I was thinking: That is precisely who I plan to nominate to New York's highest court. He had the character, the demeanor, the learning, the toughness, the intellect, the sense of justice, the understanding of people, the certainty of where he came from and how he got where he is that are all central to making a wonderful judge.

Some people think that as you make your way up the ladder of success, you have to choose sides. Not Judge Jones. For him, there was only one side, and that was the side of justice. And you have not achieved justice if you have not gotten there fairly.

All of that is what makes a good judge. We need more jurists like Judge Jones. And I will miss him dearly.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Naomi Klein Is Wrong

Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.

The Strange History of Wives Gazing at Their Husbands in Political Ads


See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 12:42 PM How to Save Broken Mayonnaise
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.