Politics & Government

Judge Davis led by example

Former Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert E. Davis died late Wednesday at his Leavenworth home.

Davis, 70, retired from the Supreme Court on July 31 after 17 years of service. Colleagues said he left a footprint on countless Kansas court cases.

The governor ordered flags at state buildings flown at half-staff until Davis is buried Monday. A funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday in Leavenworth.

"He was a brilliant but humble man who passionately advocated his positions, without ever being argumentative," Gov. Mark Parkinson said in a statement. "He made every person he encountered, regardless of their relative stature in the world, feel like they were the most important person he had ever met."

Davis joined the Supreme Court in 1993 and became its chief justice at the start of last year. Legislators who watched the court considered him a centrist who avoided politics. Friends and acquaintances also described him as gracious and gentlemanly.

Justice Lee Johnson said Davis "displayed limitless compassion and empathy for others" as chief justice.

"He brought wisdom to the court that was nurtured by his all-encompassing experience at every level of the legal profession," Johnson said. "Bob truly led by example through his diligence, coupled with an unrivaled grace and civility."

Based on court rules, Justice Lawton Nuss succeeded Davis as chief justice.

Parkinson will appoint a new justice to fill the vacancy on the court, before leaving office in January. A state nominating commission will screen applicants and pick three finalists for the governor, mostly likely this fall.

Davis worked in private practice, as a Leavenworth County attorney, as a magistrate judge and on the Kansas Court of Appeals before being appointed by Gov. Joan Finney to the Supreme Court.

Davis worked on the bench when many landmark cases came through, including those involving the death penalty, school funding and American Indian casino gaming.

Rather than move to Topeka, Davis commuted for decades in order to stay in his beloved hometown of Leavenworth. Although he had taken medical leave in recent months, Davis had a strong work ethic and worked on administrative matters from home when his health allowed.

Colleagues said Davis had a gentle, nurturing spirit that lent itself well to his work. He always maintained his grace and civility when the Supreme Court discussed cases.

"He wasn't going to get upset or angry or make it personal," said former Chief Justice Kay McFarland.

Beyond the bench, Davis cared deeply about colleagues and friends. He often wrote and mailed handwritten notes when he thought they might need support.

Johnson said Davis had a profound knowledge of the law, combined with an admirable sense of "gut-level Kansas common sense."

"I think the colleagues left on the court are certainly going to miss our good friend," Johnson said. "He was a good friend and a respected colleague."

Services will be in Leavenworth, with visitation from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at R.L. Leintz Funeral Home, 4701 10th Ave. A funeral Mass will be 10 a.m. Monday at Immaculate Conception Church, 711 N. Fifth St.