Sheila Abdus-Salaam was pronounced dead at the scene when her body was discovered one day after she was reported missing, police said.
The 65-year-old’s body was found fully clothed with no obvious signs of trauma, police said, adding they were unable to confirm the cause of her death.
Her family identified her and an autopsy was underway to determine the cause of death.
Abdus-Salaam was the first African American woman to be appointed to the court of appeals, when in 2013 Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo named her to the highest court.
“Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all,” Cuomo said in a statement.
“As the first African American woman to be appointed to the state’s court of appeals, she was a pioneer. Through her writings, her wisdom and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come.”
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said her colleague will be “missed deeply.”
“Her personal warmth, uncompromising sense of fairness and bright legal mind were an inspiration to all of us who had the good fortune to know her,” DiFiore said.
Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said he knew Abdus-Salaam for many years. He said her death of was “difficult to understand.”
“The court has suffered a terrible blow,” he said.
Abdus-Salaam graduated from Barnard College and received her law degree from Columbia Law School.
She started her career as a staff attorney for East Brooklyn Legal Services and served as a judge in Manhattan state Supreme Court for 14 years, according to the state Office of Court Administration’s website.
The president of the New York State Bar Association, Claire P Gutekunst, said Abdus-Salaam grew up poor in a family of seven children in Washington, DC, and “rose to become one of the seven judges in New York’s highest court, where her intellect, judicial temperament and wisdom earned her wide respect.”