Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first black woman judge to serve on the New York Court of Appeals (NY's highest state court) and a former public defender, died on April 12, at age 65. Her death was a shock to the entire legal community and the cause of death is still undetermined. Initially, the word was that the judge committed suicide. But family members believe otherwise and publicly corrected the false media reports of her mother and brother having committed suicide in recent years.
Although there remain many questions, it is undeniable that we have lost a righteous advocate, a trailblazing and accomplished jurist of color, and wonderful human being. She leaves behind an impressive legacy and remains an inspiration to women and lawyers of color.
While Judge Abdus-Salaam might not have taken her own life, her death reignited a conversation in the legal community about mental health and the stress of working in the law. For any lawyers who may be struggling or at risk of harm from depression, addiction, or suicide, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program in NYC (in upstate NY, or in Long Island) right away. It's free, confidential, and could be just what's needed.
Rest in power, Judge Abdus-Salaam.