2009-05-07 / Local & State

Former Pa. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cappy Dead

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy died Friday evening, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts said Saturday. He was 65.

Cappy passed away suddenly as he was preparing to leave his Pittsburgh home for a social engagement Friday evening, and friends later discovered his body at home, Deputy Court Administrator Tom Darr said. He said the cause of death is unknown, but Cappy recently underwent surgery for blocked arteries.

Gov. Ed Rendell said he was "shocked and saddened'' by the death of Cappy, whom he called one of Pennsylvania's finest public servants.

"Justice Cappy led the Supreme Court in deciding issues that have had a significant impact on the lives of every citizen,'' Rendell said in a statement. "It is not an exaggeration to say that actions taken under Ralph Cappy's leadership led directly to resolving Pennsylvania's medical malpractice crisis.''

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille called Cappy "a justice of tremendous integrity and a tireless worker'' who was well-respected nationally for his leadership and innovative programs that addressed court-related problems.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg of the University of Pittsburgh said Cappy, an alumnus of Pitt and its law school and chairman of its board of trustees, would also be remembered as "a wonderful human being.''

"His warm and welcoming personality defined him as a leader, made others eager to work with him, and stood at the center of his many friendships,'' Nordenberg said.

Cappy, a Democrat from Pittsburgh, was an Allegheny County judge before joining the Supreme Court in 1990. He served as chief justice from 2003 until he retired in January 2008.

During Cappy's tenure, the state's highest court upheld the legalization of slot machines. He became the target of criticism when he successfully lobbied the Legislature to raise the pay of state judges. After heavy public pressure, lawmakers repealed government pay raises, but Cappy's court restored the judges' raises.

Cappy's court also moved to require attorneys to get a medical professional to certify the merit of a malpractice complaint. The court also advanced the computerization of state court records and introduced a new family court program designed to more quickly place abused and neglected children in permanent homes.

Cappy was named to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in 1978 and was administrative judge of the civil division from 1986 to 1990. After leaving the high court, he joined the law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

Return to top