Kaye on Kaye: Luisa Kaye Talks About her Mother, Judith S. Kaye, in Latest Amici Podcast

Judith S. Kaye at the Court of Appeals. Photo: © Annie Leibovitz / Contact Press Images

This blog entry was written by John Caher, the Unified Court System’s senior advisor for strategic and technical communications. It discusses his recent interview with Luisa Kaye, the daughter of our late Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye. Like both of her parents, Luisa is a commercial litigator in Manhattan and partner at Wrobel Markham Schatz Kaye & Fox. On Dec. 12, Ms. Kaye will introduce the inaugural event of a new series by The Historical Society of the New York Courts, Judith S. Kaye Program: Conversations on Women and the Law. This series, sponsored by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — where Chief Judge Kaye finished her career — will examine her legacy from the perspective of her clerks. The interview was converted into an “Amici” Podcast, one of a series produced by the court system and maintained at http://www.nycourts.gov/admin/amici/index.shtml.

Photo: © Annie Leibovitz / Contact Press Images

I remember quite clearly many years ago when famed portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz photographed Chief Judge Kaye for Vanity Fair magazine. Judge Kaye told me that Annie basically drove her nuts, asking her to do this and that, and incessantly taking pictures, changing settings, and monopolizing more time than the Chief Judge had to spare. By the end of the session, Judge Kaye told me, she was willing to do just about anything if Annie would just go away and let her get back to work. It was then that Leibovitz got the picture — an uncharacteristically provocative photo — that would appear in Vanity Fair. In my recent interview with Luisa Kaye, I reminded her of that photo, which is on the invitation for the Dec. 12 event:

John Caher:
I got a kick out of the invitation because on the invitation is a briefly infamous and later famous photo of your mother by Annie Leibovitz, one of the greatest portrait photographers ever, in my opinion. In this photo, your mom is sitting at the bench wearing her trademark red shoes and her robe, and showing a bit of leg…

Luisa Kaye:
Yes. Actually, it’s a lot of leg (laughs)!

John Caher:
If I recall correctly, she was at first mortified when the picture appeared in Vanity Fair and then, if I remember what she told me correctly, she came to love it because of something you said. Can you tell us that story?

Luisa Kaye:
Yes. Well it’s not only the “bit of leg,” but the look she has on her face is absolutely perfect as well.

If you look in the background of the picture, not just focusing on her, you see a lot of the portraits of the judges. Every judge who sits on the Court gets their portrait put up, either in the courtroom or somewhere else in the courthouse after they go off the bench, and the Chief has a larger portrait, which I believe is on top. So you see all these portraits in the background and my mother with this face, and her legs, and her red shoes.

I said, “I think it’s absolutely perfect because it’s just like you’re saying, ‘Look and see, here I am. A woman, all you men staring down at me. Here I am!’” I thought it was just the perfect picture, and I actually have the original signed copy hanging in my apartment, and I always smile when I look at it.

I’d never really looked at the picture that way before. But Luisa is absolutely right. Looking down on her mother are the rather staid, dour portraits of old judges, none of them looking like they are having (or capable of) much fun. And there’s JSK, posing provocatively and wearing a, “So, there!” expression I don’t think I’d ever seen before. Although it appears as if she is reacting to the unsmiling, scowling portraits behind her, I suspect it was really a “Annie, get the hell out of here, wouldya!” look. But that’s what makes Leibovitz so good, and the photo is a classic.

In the podcast, Luisa Kaye speaks of her mother’s warm relationship with her clerks, and how she came to view them almost as family (in fact, Judge Kaye was godmother to the son of one her clerks, now Hon. Robert Mandelbaum, who is moderating the Dec. 12 program). In addition to Luisa, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore will speak before a panel discussion including Judge Mandelbaum; Mary C. Mone, who was counsel to the Chief Judge from 2000-2008; and four former clerks — Hon. Michael Garcia, Henry M. Greenberg, Roberta A. Kaplan and Hon. Jennifer Schecter.

Listen to the entire interview by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/amici-pod-luisa-kaye

The first program in the new series Judith S. Kaye Program: Conversations on Women and the Law, will take place on Mon., Dec. 12th at 6:30 p.m. at the New York City Bar Association (42 W. 44th Street, NYC). This inaugural program, titled Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye: A Clerk’s Eye View, is free and open to the public. To register, please go to http://bit.ly/12-12-jsk-program-register.

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