State Court of Appeals Associate Juge Theodore Jones, appointed just five years ago by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, died overnight from a heart attack, court officials announced today. He was 68.

Jones was selected to the state’s highest court in January 2007 and confirmed by the Senate in February of that year. jjones

His death is the first of a sitting jurist on the state’s highest court since the appointments process took effect in 1977. (Prior to that, the judges were elected).

The Brooklyn native was the only sitting black member of the court.

His death was mourned by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who said in a statement:

“The Court mourns the passing last night of our dear colleague and friend, Theodore T. Jones. Judge Jones was a jurist of great talent, intellect and compassion.”

“He was also the gentlest of men with a wonderful sunny disposition, great warmth and empathy for all. Ted Jones had a smile and a laugh that captivated the Court and the entire legal community. His achievements as a judge, a lawyer and human being could not be more noteworthy. He served his country with honor and distinction during the Vietnam War and that experience was so much a part of who he was as a person.”

“New York has lost a singular jurist and a magnificent human being and the Court of Appeals and the entire Judiciary have lost an irreplaceable friend, who we all so dearly loved. Our heartfelt sympathy goes to his wife, Joan, and the entire Jones family in this time of sorrow.”

Jones’ death creates the first vacancy for Gov. Andrew Cuomo since he took office in 2011.

Cuomo, should he win re-election in 2014, will be able to remake most of the state Court of Appeals in his next term. The terms of all seven of the currently sitting judges will either expire by 2017, or they will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.

The first judge to go was to be Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, who was appointed by Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo. She reaches the mandatory retirement age at the end of the year.

Former Judge Judith Kaye is heading up the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination, which is putting together a list of up to seven potential judicial candidates from which Cuomo must select Ciparick’s replacement.

This past summer, the commission, which had been traveling the state to raise awareness about its search, extended the application deadline.