The Missouri Supreme Court announced the death of Judge Richard B. Teitelman Tuesday morning.
Teitelman began serving on the high court in 2002 after being appointed to the post by Governor Bob Holden. He won retention to a 12-year term in 2004, and earlier this month was retained by a large majority of Missouri voters for another 12 year-year term. Teitelman served as the court’s chief justice from July 2011 through June 2013.
A Supreme Court spokesperson did not mention the cause of death. Teitelman was 69.
Governor Jay Nixon tweeted a brief message Tuesday morning.
Missouri has lost a judicial leader who was a dedicated public servant, both to our state and to our legal system.
— Governor Jay Nixon (@GovJayNixon) November 29, 2016
The court cancelled arguments for its scheduled five cases Tuesday. Tuesday afternoon Governor Nixon ordered all flags at all Missouri Courts to be lowered to half staff to honor Teitelman. The flags will remain at half staff through the day of the funeral for Judge Teitelman, which has not been set. The Supreme Court spokesperson said arrangements are pending.
Teitelman has been active in a number of civic groups, including the lawyers division of the National Federation of the Blind (he was diagnosed as legally blind at age 13).
Teitelman was a pioneer in that he was the first Jewish judge and blind person to be appointed to the high court. He also suffered from a number of ailments over the years, including diabetes which led to several amputations affecting his feet.
Longtime friend and former Supreme Court colleague Michael Wolff says Teitelman was unshakable despite his health issues. “He really had a remarkable spirit that kept him alive despite all these challenges” said Wolff. “He was actually one of the most engaged and affable people you’d ever meet.”
Teitelman was known for being politically liberal in a state which has become increasingly conservative, yet was retained twice to the high court by a large majority of Missouri voters. Wolff says Teiteman’s sense of justice rose above partisan politics. “I think that even when people disagreed with him on various issues, they still respected him for who he was. He really was a person who had the largest heart of any person you could imagine.”
Conservative organizations led by the group Missourians Against Liberal Judges launched a campaign to replace Teitelman in 2004. Citizens voted to retain him by a 62 percent margin.
In a statement, State Attorney General Chris Koster said “I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Richard Teitelman. Judge Teitelman has given our 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.”
Dana Tippin Cutler, 2016-17 Missouri Bar President said “On behalf of the officers and members of The Missouri Bar, we offer our most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Supreme Court of Missouri Judge Richard Teitelman. We join with the Court in recognizing his 18 years of service to the people of Missouri as an appellate judge and his career-long dedication to making sure all Missourians, regardless of their income, have equal access to justice in Missouri.”
Governor Nixon released an additional statement later Tuesday morning, stating “Missourians have lost a judicial leader who dedicated his life over more than four decades in service to the people of this state and to our legal system, both as a Judge of the Missouri Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals and during a long career with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. 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. He truly listened to, and never forgot, those who needed justice the most. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues.”
Governor-elect Eric Greitens has released a statement on the passing of Judge Teitelman. “Today we mourn the passing of Supreme Court Judge Richard Teitelman. He dedicated his life to the service of Missourians and was deeply committed to justice. Judge Teitelman was a trailblazer, serving as both the first Jewish and first legally blind jurist on our state’s highest court. His life serves as a reminder to every Missourian that nothing should stand in the way of passionate public service. He was a man known for his kindness and warm spirit, and he will be greatly missed.”