Ex-Chief Justice James Heiple dies after brain hemorrhage

James Heiple, a former chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, has died from complications following a brain hemorrhage, the court announced Wednesday.

Heiple, 87, died Monday at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, the court revealed in the announcement posted on its website. Heiple’s son, Jonathan, told the Journal Star his father recovered from a fall in October but a blood vessel ruptured around the first of the year.

Heiple’s legal career began in 1958 in Pekin after he served in the U.S. Army. He was elected to the 10th Circuit Court, which includes Peoria and Tazewell counties, in 1970; to the Appellate Court in 1980 and to the Supreme Court in 1990.

The Peoria-born Heiple, a Bradley University graduate, authored the so-called "Baby Richard" opinion involving the rights of birth parents in adoption cases. The case involved a mother who gave up her baby for adoption without the knowledge of the father, who found out and sought custody of the child. The court’s unanimous 1994 opinion held the biological father’s parental rights had been improperly terminated by the mother.

"Justice Heiple exemplified the very highest integrity and followed the law without fear or favor. He was one of the finest jurists Illinois has ever had," Appellate Justice William E. Holdridge said. "He had a marvelous ability to draft concise and to the point legal opinions and his judicial writings are still quoted today."

Heiple served as chief justice in 1997, stepping down after being censured by the Judicial Inquiry Board following allegations he used his clout to get out of several traffic tickets. He retired in 2000.

In addition to Jonathan, Heiple is survived by his son, Jeremy.