Leroy Hassell Sr., Virginia’s first Black chief justice, died Feb. 9 at a Richmond hospital, the Supreme Court of Virginia announced in a press release. The cause of his death was not released.
Hassell had been a member of the court since 1989 and served as chief justice from February 2003 until shortly before his death. The chief justice is the presiding judge on the Supreme Court of Virginia, the state’s highest judicial body. The chief justice also oversees the operations of the state courts. The seven justices of the court are appointed by the legislature.
Hassell was the first chief justice to be elected by the other members of the court, and his term as chief justice had recently expired shortly prior to his death. His successor, Chief Justice Kinser, praised Hassell’s intellect and “passion for the law” in a statement
A native of Norfolk, Hassell was a graduate of the University of Virginia and Harvard Law School. Before joining the Supreme Court at 34, he became partner at the nationally recognized McGuire Woods law firm.
“The Supreme Court of Virginia and the entire judiciary in the Commonwealth are saddened by the death of Justice Hassell. He was devoted to the Court and worked tirelessly to improve the administration of justice,” Kinser said.
On Feb. 11, Hassell’s body lay in state in the state capitol rotunda, where relatives and friends paid their final respects. His funeral took place Feb. 12 at an undisclosed church where Hassell and his family worshipped.