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Supreme Court pauses to remember Justice Ervin.

The Florida Supreme Court came alive with the memory of former Chief Justice Richard W. Ervin, who died in August at 99, alter a long, full life of public service that inspired equal access to justice.

The rotunda area was a history museum dedicated to Ervin's life--everything from a videotaped oral history to one of six hole-in-one trophies he won doing his favorite pastime of golf.

Inside the courtroom, a ceremonial session celebrated the man known as the "Great Dissenter," because out of more than 600 opinions he wrote during his time on the bench from 1964-75, there were 220 dissents that spoke to a justice who was ahead of his time.

"Dissents can be the mark of moral courage," said Chief Justice Barbara Pariente. "In one of his final cases as justice, Justice Ervin forcefully argued that Florida's recently revised death penalty statute was unconstitutional. This was not a popular position either then or now. He stood alone in that dissent, but it was consistent with his visions of a merciful society, as well as his view of the law."

Sandy D'Alemberte, former president of the ABA and Florida State University, said, "The remarkable thing is that Justice Ervin voiced his opinion while he was on the bench.., and did not have to regret his failure to speak out when he was ill office. We will miss this kind man, this man who had such a wonderful spine and a conscience, this great public servant who had this wonderful sense of humor, this judge who believed strongly in access to justice and saw that the mission of the law is to make life better for all citizens."

Justice Harry Lee Anstead called Ervin one of his heroes and was honored to have him swear him in as chief justice in 2002.

"He was a great role model to me, and what came out clearly from reading all of his opinions was his view that the law was really only relevant when it served the people," Anstead said.

Florida Bar President Kelly Overstreet Johnson described her awesome education in the law by "giants" when she was a young lawyer at Ervin, Varn, Jacobs, Odom and Kitchen, and her colleagues included both former Justice Ervin, also Florida's attorney general from 1949-64, and former Gov. LeRoy Collins.

"Justice Ervin was known by some as The General or simply Judge, which is what most of us at the firm called him. But he was regarded by all as a humble servant of the people and as a great Floridian," Johnson said. "He was a well-known advocate for social equality, and he embraced diversity long before any of us understood what diversity would come to mean in our lives or in our profession."

Former Gov. Reubin Askew said: "I have met a lot of people, particularly political figures, who say they are people persons. A lot of them are and a lot of them aren't. Dick Ervin was. Instinctively, he went for the marginalized in our society and to empathize with them and then to use the power given to him, whatever it be, whether as attorney general or chief justice, in order to express himself as best that God gave him that opportunity to do."

Robert Ervin, former Bar president and Richard Ervin's brother, said, "Dick strongly believed that the primary function of government at all levels, and the duty of its officials, was to respond to the needs of the governed and to serve them. And that was the thread that ran through his entire career."

Nina Ashenafi, president of the Tallahassee Bar Association, called Justice Ervin "a great man and a living legend. Though he was a humble and unassuming man, never talking down to anyone or putting on airs, Justice Ervin influenced the Tallahassee Bar Association in a great and profound way" by advocating early on a requirement to provide pro bono service as a condition of membership.

"Justice Ervin knew, all too well, that the cause of the oppressed must be one that those of us in the legal profession must champion," Ashenafi said. "For what happens to the least of us, happens eventually to all of us."

To view the special ceremonial memorial session honoring the life of Richard W. Ervin, go to www.flcourts.org and click on Supreme Court, and then go to Oral Arguments Online.
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Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Nov 15, 2004
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