NASHVILLE - Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch said Thursday he intends to retire from the state's highest court in July, becoming the second member of the state's five-member court to announce plans to retire.
The move, which caught a number of court watchers by surprise, comes after a nearly 30-year career on the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.
Koch, 66, will have a new job as dean of the Nashville School of Law.
In a statement, Koch said his service on the Supreme Court and earlier on the Court of Appeals "has been rewarding and meaningful, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to serve as chief justice next fall.
"However," he said, "when the [law school] board of trustees approached me about succeeding Dean Joe C. Loser Jr., I realized that I could make no better use of my time and energies than becoming involved in the professional development of the women and men who desire to provide their fellow Tennesseans with excellent and affordable legal representation."
Koch has taught part time at the law school for a number of years.
He joins fellow Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder in deciding not to run for another term on the five-member court. Both were up on yes/no retention ballot votes this coming August.
Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam named Court of Appeals Judge Holly Kirby, of Memphis, to fill Holder's slot beginning Sept. 1.
Now the governor has another vacancy to fill.
"Justice Koch has served the state well for more than four decades," Haslam spokesman David Smith said. "The governor is disappointed that he will no longer be serving on the state's highest court and appreciates his many years of public service."
Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice William "Mickey" Barker, of Signal Mountain, called Koch a "gentleman" and a "very hard worker and dedicated to writing excellent opinions."
He also wasn't easily persuaded when he held a firm view on legal points and didn't mind writing a well-thought-out dissent, Barker noted. Moreover, Barker said, Koch "really respected the separation of powers" among the three branches of government.
Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, said the high court is "losing a great jurist. But the legal education community's gaining a great leader."
Koch, a former attorney in the Tennessee Attorney General's office, later worked as legal counsel to then-Gov. Lamar Alexander, a Republican who named him to the state Court of Appeals in 1984.
In June 2007, Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen named Koch to the five-member Supreme Court.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com.