Ex-Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Blass dies

JACKSON — Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice William Joel Blass died Tuesday, four days after his 95th birthday, a spokeswoman for the court said.

Funeral arrangements are pending for Blass, of Pass Christian, said Beverly Pettigrew Kraft in a statement late Tuesday. She did not provide further details.

“He was a great legal scholar and outstanding leader of the bar for many years. He lived professionalism by example and was an inspiration to attorneys and judges,” said Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., of Jackson.

Former Gov. Ray Mabus appointed Blass to fill a vacancy on the court in 1989. He served through December 1990 but was defeated in his bid for a full term by Justice Chuck McRae.

Chancery Judge Jim Persons, of Gulfport, said Blass touched all parts of the legal profession — lawyer, law professor, legal scholar and judge. He also represented Stone County in the state Legislature for seven years.

“He was very progressive and was one of my heroes and inspired me to go on and study law,” said Leonard Blackwell II, former president of the Mississippi Bar. “He was a leader in racial reconciliation (in the 1950s). He was a real stalwart and an example of what a lawyer ought to be.”

He was much admired by the bench and the bar “for his civility, integrity, honesty and forthrightness and his legal ability and intellect,” Persons said. “He had a brilliant mind. He was a good man and a good lawyer.”

Blass was born in Clinton on Oct. 19, 1917, and earned degrees from LSU. He was admitted to the Louisiana Bar in 1940 and the Mississippi Bar in 1947. He served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1946, including combat duty in Europe during World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star for action in Germany and later served for a year during the Korean conflict.

From 1946 to 1965, he practiced law in Wiggins. In 1965, he began teaching law and was named director of research at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He joined the law firm of Mize, Thompson and Blass in Gulfport in 1971 and remained in private practice until his Supreme Court appointment.

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