Our View: Harry Carrico
Posted: January 29, 2013
It’s difficult to say that mere birth preordains a person for a certain profession, but if ever a man were born to be a judge, it was Harry Lee Carrico. After all, he was one for an amazing 64 years of a legal career that spanned more than seven decades.
Born in Fauquier County and trained in the law at George Washington University, Judge Carrico, who died Sunday at the age of 96, joined the Virginia Supreme Court in 1961 and essentially never left. He served as a justice for 20 years, chief justice for 22, and then, upon his retirement in 2003, as senior justice. That makes for 51 years of service to the state’s high court — a tenure downright Marshall-ian in its longevity.
There’s considerable symmetry there, as Judge Carrico was a great devotee of the nation’s longest-serving U.S. chief justice (1801-35). He was long associated with the John Marshall Foundation, a legal education organization, and, in fact, it was this foundation that announced his death Sunday morning.
Judge Carrico was a practicing attorney for but two years when he was appointed trial justice and judge at the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. After serving at that post eight years, he returned to private practice for five before his appointment to the Fairfax County Circuit Court. Five years later, he was in Richmond, on the bench of the state Supreme Court. And there he stayed.
His most noteworthy case was perhaps his most controversial. In 1966, he wrote the high court’s unanimous opinion in Loving v. Virginia, upholding the state’s miscegenation laws. This decision would be overturned a year later by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Later, as chief justice, Judge Carrico oversaw the transformation of the state’s judiciary from a system reflecting Virginia’s rural origins to one acknowledging the Old Dominion’s emerging demographic diversity. The Virginia Court of Appeals, an intermediate court crafted by the General Assembly, came into being on his chief-justice watch.
As chief justice, Judge Carrico also became known for encouraging women and minorities to join the legal profession. And upon his retirement, he was replaced by the late Leroy Hassell, the state’s first black chief justice.
Harry Carrico, ever smiling and impeccably attired, was a fixture around Capitol Square. He will be missed, not only in Richmond but here in Winchester as well. For many years, starting with its inception in 1994, the judge served as chairman of the Harry F. Byrd Jr. Leadership Award Committee, which recognizes (with scholarships) an outstanding high-school senior in each of the state’s 11 congressional districts.
But, other than family — his daughter Lucretia is a general district judge based in Petersburg — no one, perhaps, will miss Judge Carrico more than Cathy Listander, his secretary these past 38 years.
Speaking to WTVR, the CBS News affiliate in Richmond, Ms. Listander said, “He had a wonderful personality. Great sense of humor. I never saw him angry. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for him.”
And for his legacy as well. Each case, of which he had thousands, Ms. Listander said, Judge Carrico approached with the same mindset: “His focus was always what was best for the commonwealth’s judiciary.”