COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, who was the longest-serving sitting state Supreme Court chief justice in the United States, died Friday at age 70.
Moyer was admitted to a Columbus hospital Thursday morning after experiencing gastrointestinal problems and died Friday afternoon, court spokesman Chris Davey said. Over the past few months Moyer had health problems that weren't believed to be life-threatening.
Moyer, the second-longest-serving chief justice in Ohio history, became chief justice Jan. 1, 1987. He had planned to retire after finishing his current term at the end of the year.
Justice Paul Pfeifer, who met Moyer when both were students at the Ohio State University law school, said he and his colleagues were brought to tears.
"It's just a huge tragedy for all of us and a great loss for his family and for the citizens of Ohio," he said. "He was the quintessential image, and not just image but the reality of dignity of the office of chief justice, and of the role of the courts in our society."
Pfeifer said Moyer's health had deteriorated over the past weeks but he was in court on Tuesday, despite looking "very ill," and returned Wednesday looking much better. He said he was disappointed Moyer didn't get a "very grand party" to end his more than two decades as chief justice but Moyer would've been proud he presided to the end of his life.
Moyer, a Republican, extended a bipartisan hand to the first Democratic governor in the state in 16 years when he delivered the oath of office to Gov. Ted Strickland in January 2007.
Strickland on Friday ordered flags at public buildings and grounds flown at half-staff Monday through the day of Moyer's burial. He called Moyer "dignified, respectful, thoughtful and always concerned for the well-being of others."
Among the influential cases Moyer oversaw was one through which the court multiple times declared Ohio's school funding system unconstitutional.
Bill Phillis, who led the Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, which fought Ohio's school funding formula before the court, praised Moyer's conduct.
"He was always an honorable person. There was never any question about the integrity of Tom Moyer," he said. "That's not to say we agreed with Tom ... but you never questioned his honesty and integrity."
Among Moyer's main efforts was to change the way judges are selected in Ohio. He had been pushing for a constitutional amendment requiring the appointment of state Supreme Court justices, rather that selection through election, because he believed having judges seek large campaign donations tainted the legal system.
"It doesn't support the fundamental principle of judges acting fairly and impartially," Moyer told The Associated Press in December.
Catherine Turcer, campaign finance director for Ohio Citizen Action, a grass-roots consumer advocacy group, called Moyer a good advocate for changing the system.
"I really admired that because that's not easy to do," she said. "Here he is, he's the chief justice and he's saying, 'Hey, there's something really wrong here. We need to stop combining money and judges.'"
Ohio State University law professor Marc Spindelman said Moyer would take time from his busy schedule to speak to students.
"This is a reeling loss for the court. The chief justice was a great statesman, in addition to being an absolutely hardworking public servant and just a very decent human being," Spindelman said. "He was the court's moderating impulse."
Moyer also had worked to adopt out-of-court conflict resolution strategies and to bring interpreters into the courts for non-English speakers and the hearing impaired. He assisted other courts across the nation and world, including those in China, Argentina and Ukraine.
State law says "the judge having the period of longest total service upon the court shall be the acting chief justice" if the chief justice is absent or disabled. Pfeifer, considered the all-Republican court's most liberal voice, now is the longest-serving justice on the court; he was first elected in 1993.
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