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Respected judge to take over Paterson probe

Gov. David Paterson, right, is sworn in by

Gov. David Paterson, right, is sworn in by Chief Judge Judith Kaye, left, while his wife Michelle Paige looks on, in Albany, March 17, 2008. AG Andrew Cuomo stepped aside from a criminal investigation on Paterson and appointed Kaye to take over, March 11, 2010. Photo Credit: AP File

ALBANY - Since she stepped down in 2008 as chief judge of the state Court of Appeals at the mandatory retirement age of 70, Judith S. Kaye has been kept busy with a string of high-profile and sensitive assignments, as befits one of the nation's most respected jurists.

Now Kaye has been "authorized to perform any lawful functions necessary," Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, to probe whether crimes were committed by the governor she herself swore into office two years ago.

After a series of arrests on the SUNY Binghamton basketball team, the school hired Kaye and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the Manhattan firm where she is now of counsel, to lead an independent review of the team. Kaye's report was unsparing in its details about how coaches helped players navigate fluff courses and drug arrests.

This year, the Working Families party has hired her to review its business structure after being accused of seeking to skirt campaign spending laws.

"She is someone who does not approach a task with any preconceived notions," said former chief judge Sol Wachtler, whom Kaye replaced in that post in 1993, and who considers her a friend. "I could not think of a more notable or perfect choice, if it's getting to the bedrock of truth with respect to these matters."

During her 15 years on the bench, Kaye was chief judge for the 2004 decision finding the state's death penalty unconstitutional, and dissented from the 2006 ruling that the state's constitution does not compel recognition of gay marriages.

What Kaye found "heartbreaking and frustrating and demoralizing beyond description," as she said in her retirement speech, was the failure so far of a lawsuit she filed in 2008 seeking to win the state's judges their first raise since 1998.

New York's highest court ruled last month that the governor and state lawmakers violated separation of powers protections when they linked judges' pay to that of the legislature - but the court also said those protections prevented the judiciary from ordering that raise.

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