Topeka Kansas Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Gernon of Lawrence died last night, officials said today. He was 61.
Gernon had been suffering from cancer. Last year, he had a kidney removed.
He was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2003 after having served on the Kansas Court of Appeals.
Before being named to the state appeals court in 1988 by Gov. Mike Hayden, Gernon worked as a private attorney, assistant district attorney and district judge.
Gernon grew up in Brown County, received his undergraduate degree from Kansas University and law degree from Washburn University.
His death leaves a vacancy on the seven-member court as it prepares to consider the Legislature's response to the court's unanimous order that lawmakers improve the state's public schools.
Gernon was part of the 4-3 majority that struck down the state's death penalty law in December. He also wrote a Court of Appeals decision in 2001 that said marriage between a man and a person who became a woman through sexual reassignment surgery may be valid under Kansas law.
A nominating commission will select three candidates to take Gernon's place on the court, and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will pick a new justice from that list of nominees.
"His fairness and integrity made him a valued member of the Kansas Supreme Court, and his untimely death cuts short a distinguished legal career," Sebelius said.
Court spokesman Ron Keefover said the Supreme Court would use a retired justice or a Court of Appeals judge to hear pending cases, as is the practice when justices are absent or there is a court vacancy.
Chief Justice Kay McFarland recalled Gernon's lengthy career in law and public service, noting that he served as a probation officer and presentence investigator in Shawnee County before graduating from law school.
"The length and variety of his public service in the legal profession attest to his deeply held convictions to do what's right for the benefit of the public," McFarland said. "Justice Gernon's commitment to public service, his legal skills and his ready sense of humor will be missed."
Gernon was born in Sabetha and graduated from KU with a degree in business administration. He received his law degree in 1969 from Washburn.
Before appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court, Gernon served as judge in the 22nd District, in northeast Kansas.
"It's a personal tragedy for the Gernon family and Bob's death is a loss for Kansas. He was a good fellow," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Sebelius said flags would be lowered on the day of Gernon's funeral. Gernon is survived by two children, Dr. Rebecca Gernon Wilson and Kristin Gernon.