Richard Teitelman, a judge on the Missouri Supreme Court since 2002, has died. He was 69.
Details of his death, which was announced Tuesday morning by the court’s spokeswoman, were not immediately available.
The court canceled oral arguments scheduled for Tuesday.
Gov. Jay Nixon praised Teitelman as “a judicial leader who dedicated his life over more than four decades in service to the people of this state.”
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“Judge Teitelman will be remembered not only for his breaking new ground as the first legally blind judge to sit on Missouri’s highest court, but also for his legal skills and his passion for justice,” Nixon said. “He truly listened to, and never forgot, those who needed justice the most.”
Attorney General Chris Koster said Teitelman has given the state “a lifetime of public service, including two decades at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri representing the most vulnerable of our citizens. We will miss his wisdom, humor and friendship.”
Teitelman was born in Philadelphia and declared legally blind at age 13. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in math before moving to Missouri to attend law school at Washington University in St. Louis. He went to work for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to low-income people and the elderly.
He was appointed to the Eastern District Court of Appeals in 1998 by Gov. Mel Carnahan.
Teitelman’s 2002 appointment to the Missouri Supreme Court by Gov. Bob Holden marked a shift in the balance of the court, putting judges selected by Democratic governors in the majority for the first time since the mid-1980s.
The seven-member court currently has two Republican appointees — Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge and Judge Zel Fischer.
Teitelman faced opposition to his retention election in 2004, when an organized campaign against him was mounted by conservative organizations such as Missouri Family Network and the Eagle Forum. The groups sought to persuade voters to kick Teitelman off the court because they believed he was “one of the most powerful and liberal judges in Missouri.”
The campaign failed, and Teitelman was retained by a wide margin. Voters opted to keep him on the bench again earlier this month.
From 2011 to 2013, Teitelman served as chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. In addition to being the court’s first legally blind member, he was also the high court’s first Jewish judge.
A seven-member commission will now be tasked with naming candidates to replace Teitelman. The commission is made up of a judge of the Supreme Court, three citizens appointed by the governor and three attorneys elected by members of the Missouri Bar.
The commission will submit three names to the governor, who then has 60 days in which to choose from the list. If the governor does not act in 60 days, the commission is required to appoint one of the three nominees to the court.
Nixon, a Democrat, leaves office in January, meaning Republican Gov.-elect Eric Greitens will likely choose Teitelman’s replacement.
Greitens praised Teitelman Tuesday as a “trailblazer.”
“His life serves as a reminder to every Missourian that nothing should stand in the way of passionate public service,” Greitens said. “He was a man known for his kindness and warm spirit, and he will be greatly missed.”
A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday in St. Louis.