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Former Justice Randy Holland dies at 75

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Randy Holland | PHOTO COURTESY OF WILSON SONSINI

WILMINGTON – Former Delaware Supreme Court Justice Randy Holland, who was both the youngest justice on the state’s highest court upon his appointment and the longest serving at his retirement, died Tuesday at age 75.

A cause of death was not immediately available Wednesday when his passing was announced by state leaders.

Holland, who continued to practice law as a senior counselor in the national firm Wilson Sonsini‘s Wilmington office, was widely regarded as one of the foremost experts on Delaware’s Constitution and was frequently called on to weigh into legislative and legal battles over some of the founding principles of the First State.

Just two years ago, he was among the counsel successfully defending the state and Gov. John Carney before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that would have substantially changed the make-up of Delaware’s judgeships.

On Wednesday, Carney called Holland’s death a “tremendous loss for our state.”

“Justice Holland was a true public servant and a steady source of wisdom on Delaware’s Supreme Court for more than three decades. He had a deep knowledge of the Constitution and Delaware’s unique history. His books on the Delaware Constitution have served as a guide for countless public officials in our state. And I have personally sought his counsel many times during my time in office,” the governor said in a statement. “Justice Holland made his mark in our history books by serving on Delaware’s highest court longer than anyone else. He was a thoughtful, model jurist and will be greatly missed. Tracey and I are praying for Justice Holland’s family, and his many friends across our state, during this difficult time.”

A gifted young athlete, the Milford High School alum would graduate cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Prior to his appointment to the state bench, Holland served in private practice, rising to a partner at Wilmington powerhouse Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell.

He became the youngest person to serve on the Delaware Supreme Court when he was nominated by then-Gov. Michael Castle in 1986 and confirmed by the Delaware Senate. He was re-appointed twice to additional 12-year terms, by Gov. Tom Carper and in 2011 by Gov. Jack Markell. In 2009, he became the longest serving justice in Delaware history and served until his retirement in 2017.

Throughout his 30-year tenure on the bench, Holland wrote more than 700 reported opinions and several thousand case dispositive orders. He also published two widely read and cited books on the Delaware Constitution, including “Delaware Constitution of 1897, The First One Hundred Years” and “The Delaware Constitution: A Reference Guide.” In 2009, he co-authored a law school casebook on that subject from the perspective of all 50 states titled “State Constitutional Law, The Modern Experience.” With Holland’s encouragement, the Conference of Chief Justices passed a unanimous resolution recommending that all law schools offer courses on state constitutions.

As news of Holland’s passing spread Wednesday, tributes began to pour in across the state.

“His longevity on the bench is a result of his broad knowledge of the law and of our state, and the respect and professionalism he upheld on and off the bench,” Sen. Carper said in a statement. “Justice Holland was more than a Supreme Court Justice, he was also a world-renowned historian and author, and wrote a number of books on the Delaware judiciary. Delaware – and its judicial system – is a better place because of his service on the bench.”

Carper’s Senate colleague, Chris Coons, said Holland had “left a legacy as a giant of the Delaware legal community, but those who knew him will also remember him for his thoughtful kindness and dedication to our state.”

“No matter how busy he was or how often you talked to him, it was not uncommon to receive a handwritten note wishing you well, simply because that was who he was – a gracious man who took his role as a leader of our state seriously and served as a mentor to many,” he added.

Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. who served with Holland for his last two years on the bench, called his former colleague “one of our greatest public servants.” Noting that his “cogent and authoritative opinions in all areas of the law that have withstood the test of time,” Seitz also said that Holland “championed the highest ethical standards for Delaware lawyers and judges.”

“What Justice Randy Holland will be most remembered for is his kindness, humility, and graciousness, and his personal notes written with a blue felt tip pen,” the chief judge said in a statement, noting the judiciary would honor him at a later time.

“Justice Holland was a great and historic jurist of the Court,” said former Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey, who served with Holland for 12 years, from 1992 to 2004. “Indeed, he was a quintessential and intellectual jurist, with an extraordinary grounding in the law and a marvelous sense of fairness and equity … Above all, he was a warm and noble human being – a truly good man in all respects.”

“Delaware just lost one of its true servants,” added former Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr., who served with Holland from 2014 to 2017. “No one loved our state or its bar more than Justice Holland. Through his dedication to the judicial craft, his fostering of bench-bar relations through the Inns of Court movement, his preservation of our state’s history, and his concern for the most vulnerable of litigants – particularly the children served by our Family Court – Randy made our state a better place and burnished its reputation as a legal center of excellence. We will miss his friendship and are profoundly sorry for his family’s irreplaceable loss.”

The Delaware State Senate Democratic Caucus called Holland “one of the most intelligent, compassionate and dedicated jurists Delaware has ever known.” They had been working alongside Holland over the last five months as he guided them through the Delaware Constitution in attempting to answer questions regarding its direction over crimes by public officials and the ability to remove officials from office. That work was spurred by the indictment of State Auditor Kathryn McGuiness on felony and misdemeanor charges related to abuse of office. She has pleaded her innocence and heads to trial in May.

“During that time, we discovered Justice Holland’s reputation was well deserved, but also somehow fell short of capturing the kindness, humor, and grace he brought to every meeting and phone call,” the caucus said in a statement.

Aside from advising the General Assembly and representing the governor in recent cases, Holland had also recently chaired a court committee to work on bail reform in domestic violence cases. Four years ago, the Randy J. Holland Family Law Endowment was created in his honor for the Combined Campaign for Justice to fund a full-time fellowship position to serve the family law needs for low-income families.

For many years, he taught corporate governance, appellate practice, and state constitutional law and frequently focused on business ethics. Holland traveled internationally to advance corporate governance and ethics, including working with the justice system in Taiwan. On several occasions, he hosted visiting delegations from Taiwan to Delaware.

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