LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — A law professor who specializes in judicial ethics and has taught two members of the Arkansas Supreme Court will serve as chief justice through the end of next year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday.
Hutchinson named Howard Brill to serve the remainder of outgoing Chief Justice Jim Hannah's term, which expires at the end of 2016. Hannah announced earlier this month he was resigning because of health problems.
Brill, 72, is a law professor at the University of Arkansas focusing on legal ethics and professional responsibility. He has been appointed several times as a special justice to the court.
"Lawyers across Arkansas have called Professor Brill on numerous occasions to ask advice. Judges across this state look to him for expertise and professional guidance as well," the Republican governor said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
Brill praised Hannah, who has served on the court since 2001, and said the departing chief justice led the court with "professionalism and grace and civility."
"He sets a model for me to follow in the coming year and a half," Brill said.
Brill is leading the court after an unusually high-profile split over its handling of the gay marriage case. Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson accused others on the court of unnecessarily delaying the gay marriage lawsuit by creating a separate case over which justices should hear the appeal.
The court dismissed the gay marriage case in June, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Brill declined to weigh in on the split over the marriage case's handling.
"I'm not looking backwards. I'm looking forward," he said. "I'm looking forward as to what my role should be in leading the court and the challenges and the caseload responsibilities that come to us."
Since he was appointed, Brill is barred from running for re-election for a full eight-year term as chief justice next year. So far, no one has formally announced a bid for the post. Though he could run for another post on the court, Brill said he plans to return to the classroom after his appointment ends.
Brill's colleagues on the court will include two former students, Justices Robin Wynne and Courtney Hudson Goodson, both of whom he taught at UA.
"He's smart, he is a good teacher, he pushed me as a student and made sure I had done my reading," Wynne told reporters. "I think if he's as good a justice as he is a professor, then the governor's made a great appointment."
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