State's first African-American Supreme Court Justice dead at age 59

Published: Aug. 24, 2007 at 1:18 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2007 at 4:02 AM EDT
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By Mark Schnyder

LOUISVILLE (WAVE) -- The first black person to serve on the Kentucky Supreme Court has died after a battle with cancer. Justice William McAnulty died Thursday night at his home in the Highlands. On Friday friends and former colleagues practically lined up to speak about a man who served at every level of Kentucky's court system. WAVE 3's Mark Schnyder has more.

On Aug. 17th, nearly one week to the day of his death, six other justices on the State Supreme Court visited Justice McAnulty at his home.

During that final visit, Chief Justice Joseph Lambert said McAnulty continued to display the wit, charm and good humor he was famous for.

He was diagnosed with cancer in June, and had a cancerous lesion removed from his brain shortly after that. Earlier this month, he resigned from the state's highest court while undergoing radiation treatment for the cancer.

The Indianapolis native was a graduate of Indiana University and the University of Louisville Brandies School of Law.

He was committed to justice in Kentucky. During his 30 years on the bench, McAnulty served at all levels on the state court system. In 1975, he began his career as a Jefferson County Juvenile Court judge before being elected to Jefferson District Court in 1977 and served there until being elected a Circuit Court judge in 1983.

"While he took his job very seriously and his responsibilities very seriously, he never took himself too seriously," said Congressman John Yarmuth.

Two Louisville-based state appeals court judges knew him well: Judge Lisabeth Hughes Abramson succeeded McAnulty in Circuit Court, and Judge Tom Wine was his successor on the Court of Appeals.

Judge Wine said McAnulty had a reputation for being fair. "Whether you were the doorman or the CEO of of the largest company here in Kentucky, he treated everybody the same, and we all appreciated his wit, we all appreciated his dedication to the job."

Judge Abramson added: "Anyone who knew him knew he had a tremendously competitive spirit and I think he brought that competitive spirit to his fight with cancer."

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson called for flags at government buildings across the area to be lowered to half staff to honor McAnulty until after his funeral.

"We have lost a great jurist, and I've lost a personal friend," Abramson said.

During a campaign stop in Bullitt County, Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who appointed McAnulty to the State Supreme Court, spoke about the man who opened a new door to black judges in Kentucky.

"He was well-respected, just a great legal mind and a great individual," Fletcher said. "It's a big loss for Kentucky."

Jefferson County Circuit, District and Family courts will be canceled Monday so judges can attend a memorial service for McAnulty.

Funeral arrangements were pending. In the last few days, his family asked any gifts be sent to Hospice of Louisville, Highland Presbyterian Church or the Justice William E. McAnulty scholarship fund.

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