From The Tennessean:
Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr., the first African-American elected to a Nashville judgeship and the first to lead the Tennessee Supreme Court, died Thursday. He was 78.
Former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, who was recently elected by the Metro Council to be the next Davidson County Criminal Court clerk – the first African-American to hold that role – confirmed Birch’s passing.
“I was hoping he would be at my swearing in Tuesday,” Gentry said in a text message this morning.
Birch retired from the bench in 2006 after 13 years on the state Supreme Court, six on the Tennessee Court of Appeals and 18 on Davidson County’s General Sessions and Criminal courts. He was chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1996-97, then won a hard-fought election to an eight-year term in 1998.
Birch underwent surgery in July 2004 and then had radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer. He took time off but returned to work full-time in November of that year.
…..Earlier in his life, before he became an attorney, an assistant public defender and a prosecutor, Birch worked as a cab driver.
Nashville named a new, $49 million general sessions and criminal courts building for Birch in 2006. It sits across James Robertson Parkway from the historic courthouse.
A statement from the current Supreme Court chief justice is below.
Statement from Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Cornelia Clark:
“We are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of former Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch, Jr. Our judicial family has lost a great leader, champion of justice, and dear friend. A true pioneer in many arenas, Justice Birch has left an indelible mark on the Tennessee judiciary and the entire legal system.
“As the only judge who ever served at every level of our legal system, Justice Birch had a keen understanding of the law, the judiciary and the people he served. That perspective served him well on the Supreme Court, especially in his role as chief justice. For his entire judicial career he continued to blaze trails to insure justice and access to the courts for all persons.
“I was very privileged to serve with Justice Birch on the Court during the last year of his tenure and to have my office around the corner from his. I often sought his advice and counsel. He never hesitated to stop what he was doing and answer my questions, and I benefitted greatly from his wisdom and patience. I was proud to call him my colleague and my friend.
“Justice Birch served the state of Tennessee with extraordinary dignity and integrity and we will miss him dearly.”