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Retired Rhode Island Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger, 92, restored faith in system

This undated phoreleased by Rhode IslJudiciary shows former state Supreme Court chief justice Joseph R. Weisberger who died Friday Dec.

This undated photo released by the the Rhode Island Judiciary shows former state Supreme Court chief justice, Joseph R. Weisberger, who died Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 in Rhode Island. Weisberber, who retired in 2001 after 45 years as a state judge, was 92. (AP Photo/Rhode Island Judiciary)

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Updated: January 10, 2013 6:38AM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger, who served the judiciary for 56 years and is credited with restoring public faith in the state court system after scandal, died Friday. He was 92.

Court spokesman Craig Berke confirmed Weisberger’s death but said he didn’t know the cause. Weisberger, who lived in East Providence, stayed active with the courts after his retirement and had done mediations for the high court until the spring, Berke said.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee issued a statement praising Weisberger for his honorable service.

“Justice Weisberger was so widely admired and respected because he embodied all that the state’s highest court should be: deliberative, fair, scholarly, and seeking always and above all else clarity, justice, and truth,” Chafee said.

Current Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell said Weisberger’s legacy was carved into the state’s legal community.

A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School, Weisberger interrupted his undergraduate studies in 1941 to join the Navy, where he served in the Pacific. When he returned, he finished at Brown, then went on to Harvard. He served briefly in the state Senate, then became a judge in 1956 at age 35.

He worked his way up to the high court, becoming an associate justice in 1978. He was named acting chief in 1993, after Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fay pleaded guilty to misusing court funds and resigned.

Fay took over in 1986 after his predecessor, Joseph Bevilacqua, resigned amid impeachment proceedings in the General Assembly, during which it was alleged he had ties to organized crime and used court employees for personal errands.

Weisberger told The Associated Press during an interview in 2001 that he faced a daunting challenge when he was first named to the job. The court’s budget had been slashed by 4 percent and the legislature had lost confidence in the system.

“My objective was to restore confidence and stability in the court,” he said. “”It was difficult; the strain and stress were noticeable.”

He was permanently appointed to the job in 1995. When he retired at age 80, Weisberger spoke with nostalgia about his time in the court system.

“I wish I could live this whole career over,” he said. “I wouldn’t change much.”

He said he looked forward to cutting back his schedule, but he continued to do mediation work.

House Speaker Gordon Fox, an attorney, said Friday that Weisberger was respected and admired by all in the legal community.

“His integrity was without question, and his knowledge of the law was unparalleled,” Fox said.


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