- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah said Thursday he’s resigning at the end of August because of health problems, months after accusing other justices of unnecessarily delaying proceedings in a gay marriage case.

Hannah announced he’s leaving the post more than a year before his eight-year term expires. Hannah, 70, had been widely expected to not seek re-election next year.

“In recent weeks I have been challenged by a significant health issue,” he said in a prepared statement. “Having the utmost respect for my job as chief justice and the business of the court, I have made a decision to tender my resignation effective at the end of August 31, 2015, to focus full-time on addressing my immediate health condition.”

A spokesman said Hannah would not be available for interviews, and declined to elaborate on the type of health issues the chief justice had been facing.

Hannah was first elected to the state Supreme Court in 2000 and was elected chief justice in 2004. He was elected to a full eight-year term in 2008.

Hannah and Associate Justice Paul Danielson earlier this year accused other members of the court of delaying the lawsuit over Arkansas’ gay marriage ban by creating a separate case over which justices could hear the appeal. The court eventually ruled that Justice Rhonda Wood, who joined the court in January, should participate in the case rather than a special justice who sat on the court during oral arguments last year.

In a letter recusing from the spinoff case, Hannah wrote that the court’s majority “has created out of whole cloth an issue to delay the disposition” in the gay marriage lawsuit.

The court dismissed the gay marriage case hours after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson thanked Hannah for his service, and didn’t indicate how quickly he’d name someone to fill the remainder of the chief justice’s term.

“Even in his resignation, the chief justice has placed the courts and the people of Arkansas above his personal interests, and, while I recognize this is a tough decision for him to make, he made it for the right reasons and we are forever grateful for his dedication to the rule of law,” Hutchinson said in a prepared statement.

Danielson, who announced in May he wouldn’t seek re-election next year, called Hannah a dear friend in a statement and called the chief justice someone who “served our state with honor and distinction.” Wood praised him in a statement as a “champion of juvenile justice.”

Hannah has led the court during some of its most high-profile cases in recent years, including its ruling last year striking down Arkansas’ voter ID law and a long running fight over school funding.

Hannah criticized the court’s majority for re-opening the Lake View school funding case in 2005, saying in a dissent that the court “attempted to make itself a legislative body.” The case ended in 2007, when justices ruled lawmakers had adequately funded public schools.

Former Gov. Mike Beebe, a friend and former law partner of Hannah’s, said the chief justice led the court “quietly and competently” on some of its most divisive cases.

“People don’t realize outside the court all they have to do to keep seven personalities and seven different egos running in a cohesive manner,” Beebe said. “That doesn’t mean they always agree.”

Hannah said he’ll be “forever grateful” for his time on the court.

“There is no greater honor that a person can receive than to have another person place his or her trust and confidence in you,” Hannah said. “I want to thank the people of Arkansas who placed their trust and confidence in me and allowed me to serve them on their Arkansas Supreme Court.”

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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