ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Judge Theodore T. Jones Jr., one of seven jurists on New York’s top court, has died at age 68.
Court officials said Tuesday that Jones suffered an apparent heart attack Monday night at home in Rockland County. He became a state Supreme Court Justice in Brooklyn in 1990 and was joined the Court of Appeals in 2007 after being nominated by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Jones was co-chairman of the court’s task force on wrongful convictions, which recommended videotaping police interrogations, steps to prevent suggestive police lineups for witnesses and expanding defense access to DNA evidence. He was the current court’s only African-American and chaired its diversity committee.
"Judge Jones was a jurist of great talent, intellect and compassion," Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said. "He was also the gentlest of men, with a wonderful sunny disposition, great warmth and empathy for all."
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who co-chaired the task force, said members, who included defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges, had many divergent opinions. "The judge was brilliant in bringing people together, trying to find common ground to move forward and advance the work we were doing. In the justice community, we’re really going to miss him," she said.
Jones was born on March 10, 1944. His mother was teacher, and his father worked on Long Island Railroad, becoming a station master.
He graduated from Hampton University in Virginia and joined the U.S. Army in 1967, serving in Vietnam and reaching the rank of captain. He graduated from St. Johns University School of Law in 1972. He worked at the Legal Aid Society, focusing on criminal defense work, and in private practice. He was elected twice to the state Supreme Court.
Jones’ best-known case was the New York City transit strike in 2005, where Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union defied his injunction and shut down the city’s subways and buses for 60 hours shortly before Christmas. He fined the union $1 million a day for violating the state’s Taylor Law that prohibits public employees from striking. He sent union President Roger Toussaint to jail for four days for contempt of court.
Last November, he authored the Court of Appeals decision rejecting the challenge to state economic development grants brought by a taxpayer group affiliated with the tea party movement, which had wanted companies to return billions of taxpayer dollars to the state. Public benefit corporations, including New York’s Economic State Development Corp., aren’t subject to the constitutional prohibition against giving state funds to private companies and can use state money for designated public purposes, he wrote for the 6-1 majority.
He is survived by his wife, Joan, and sons, Wesley Jones and Theodore T. Jones III, an attorney.