ALBANY - In 1994, Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick (See Profile) made history by becoming the first Hispanic judge on the state Court of Appeals. Since then, she has written some of the court's most significant decisions, breaking new ground on issues such as school funding [Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York, 86 NY2d 307 (1995)], the separation of church and state [Grumet v. Cuomo, 90 NY2d 57 (1997)], and the death penalty [People v. Taylor, 9 NY3d 129 (2007)].
Yet despite the flurry of honors and accolades that accompany the departure of a long-tenured and distinguished Court of Appeals' judge, Ciparick is taking her leave much as she performed on the benchquietly, and quick to praise her colleagues and the institution of the court in a way that deflects attention from herself and her accomplishments.
Judith Kaye, Ciparick's close ideological ally on the court when the two served together from 1994 to 2008, predicted that Ciparick's stature will grow as time passes and the wisdom of her rulings comes into sharper focus.
"Judge Ciparick is by nature a very modest and unassuming human being," Kaye said. "Does somebody get just due who never seeks it? Judge Ciparick never did seek it. But I am more of an optimist than a pessimist and I believe she will get her due."
Interviewed earlier this month at her chambers at the Court of Appeals in Albany, where nearly two decades' worth of mementos had been removed from the paneled walls and bookcases and boxed up for her departure, Ciparick said she was well aware of the precedent-setting rulings in which she participated.
One was the 4-3 ruling in Matter of Jacob, 86 NY2d 651 (1995), in which she wrote an opinion that enabled two unmarried partners of biological mothersone heterosexual and one homosexualto adopt the children they had been helping to raise.
"It was wonderful being able to make that happen," Ciparick said, adding, "It was good to be on the dissenting side of the same-sex marriage case." Hernandez v. Robles, 7 NY3d 338 (2006).
In Hernandez , Kaye wrote and Ciparick joined an opinion calling on the court to recognize same-sex marriage. It took years before the Legislature adopted their opinion.
"Also, what's very important to me is being part of the court that struck down the capital punishment statute and writing the original decision on the education funding case," Ciparick said. "I feel very fortunate that I was on the court when these issues came up. I feel very fortunate to have, in some cases, to have been the fourth vote on some of these issues and yes, I hope that that's part of my legacy."
In all, Ciparick wrote the majority opinion for the court in 322 cases. Her first was People v. Matos, 83 NY2d 509, from Feb. 22, 1994, in which a unanimous court agreed that a robber fleeing a Manhattan McDonald's was responsible for the murder of a police officer who took a fatal fall as he pursued the robber across a roof top. Her last was on Dec. 18, 2012, in People v. Garcia, 205, in which she wrote that police officers must have a "founded suspicion that criminality is afoot" before questioning the occupants of a vehicle pulled over on a routine traffic stop whether they have weapons in their possession.