Va. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser retiring

By Frank Green, Richmond Times-Dispatch – 6/13/2014

RICHMOND — Cynthia D. Kinser, chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, is retiring this year after more than 16 years on the court.

Kinser is the 25th chief justice of the court and the first woman to hold the post on the seven-member court, which has two other female justices. No resignation date was included in a two-paragraph announcement from the court.

L. Steven Emmert, a prominent Virginia Beach lawyer who practices before the court said that although her announcement said her intention is to retire this year, he believes she will wait until next year when her four-term as chief justice expires.

“I don’t have an inside insight . . . but I would imagine she would stay through that time, that would make sense to me,” said Emmert.

Emmert said, “The first reaction I had was, ‘Oh, my God, I hope it’s not health-related.’ She’s nowhere near mandatory retirement age and she’s an absolutely delightful person.”

“But, the word is getting around that it’s not health-related at all. I’m very relieved about that,” he said.  Emmert said, “the best guess that I have is that she’s done it long enough . . . it’s obviously a lot of travel from Pennington Gap to a lot of places in Virginia.”

A resident of Lee County, Kinser, 62, was appointed to the court in 1997 by Gov. George Allen, a former University of Virginia law school classmate,  to fill an unexpired term. The  General Assembly elected her to her first 12-year term in 1998 and again in 2010.

She served as Lee County’s commonwealth’s attorney and as a U.S. magistrate before she joined the Supreme Court. She replaced the late Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr., of Richmond, as the chief justice in 2011.

Her term as chief justice began Feb. 1, 2011. Hassell died Feb. 9, 2011.

Hassell, the court’s first African-American chief justice, served two terms as chief justice and under court policy was not eligible to serve a third.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court serves as the administrative head of Virginia’s judicial system. By law, the Chief Justice is chosen by the majority vote of the seven justices, for a term of four years.

Kinser was part of the University of Virginia 1977 law school class that also included future governors George Allen and Jim Gilmore, future Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-4th; future federal judges G. Steven Agee and Virginia Hopkins; future editor and author Evan Thomas; and Will Shortz, future crossword editor of the New York Times.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said Kinser’s retirement announcement today leaves ample time for the justices to elect her successor and the General Assembly to elect a new justice.

John B. Russell Jr., a Richmond lawyer who has known Kinser since her time as a local prosecutor, said, “I’m stunned and sorry to hear that she’s leaving. She’s a great justice and I think she’s been a superb chief justice.”

Speaker of the House William J. Howell, R-Stafford, thanked Kinser for her service.

“Cynthia is a woman of deep integrity, a conscientious public servant and a widely respected jurist deeply committed to the administration of justice,” he said.

“She will undoubtedly be remembered as the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but her legacy will extend far beyond that accomplishment. She has worked tirelessly to improve the Supreme Court of Virginia by strengthening its administration, building collegiality amongst her colleagues, and administering justice fairly and equitably.”