- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Justice Leroy R. Hassell Sr. yesterday was selected to head the Virginia Supreme Court, making him the first black chief justice in the nearly 400-year history of the court.
Justice Hassell, 47, will assume the responsibilities of chief justice Feb. 1.
Current Chief Justice Harry L. Carrico is retiring after 42 years on the bench. Justice Carrico, who turns 86 next month, has served as chief justice of the seven-member court for the last 22 years and has been on the court since 1960.
"For more than 20 years, Chief Justice Carrico has provided critical leadership to Virginia's highest court. I am confident that under Justice Hassell's leadership, the Supreme Court of Virginia will continue to provide impartial justice to all who appear before the court," Gov. Mark R. Warner said in a statement.
Justice Hassell's selection was the first under rules established this year for the appointment of chief justice. The rules, signed into law by Mr. Warner, call for the election of the chief justice by his or her peers among the sitting justices on the Supreme Court.
Under the old law, the member with the most seniority currently Justice Elizabeth Lacy, who was appointed several months before Justice Hassell automatically became chief justice.
A Norfolk native, Justice Hassell graduated from the University of Virginia in 1977 and received his law degree from Harvard in 1980. He was a partner at the McGuireWoods Law Firm in Richmond when Gov. Gerald L. Baliles appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1989 at the age of 34.
Justice Hassell is married and has three children.
He is the only minority member of the court. Justice Hassell wrote the dissenting opinion in a 4-3 decision in 2000 that ruled unconstitutional a 1952 state law banning Ku Klux Klan cross burnings.
"[T]he majority opinion invalidates the state that for almost 50 years has protected our citizens from being placed in fear of bodily harm by the burning of a cross," he wrote.
During his 13-year tenure, Justice Hassell has amassed what many consider a centrist record. In the same year as his dissent in the KKK ruling, he sided with his colleagues in a unanimous ruling that Arlington County was in violation of state law when it decided to confer health benefits to same-sex partners of county employees.
Virginia's chief justice supervises the administration of the state's entire court system, and can assign any circuit court judge temporarily to another circuit or call retired court judges back to duty.
In 1989, Virginia became the first state in the country to elect a black governor. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder served from 1990 to 1994.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide