A senior federal judge who drew respect for uprightness and skill during nearly four decades on the bench in western Virginia has died.
The death of Jackson L. Kiser, 91, on Wednesday was announced by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The court did not release the cause of death but said he died after a brief illness.
Observers recalled his work as an arbiter of criminal and civil actions with high acclaim. Kiser was based in the judiciary’s Danville courthouse but heard cases in other communities, including Roanoke.
As a senior judge, Kiser was semi-retired. The last opinion in the federal court that bears his signature was signed Aug. 18.
“He was a judge of tremendous integrity, scholarship and essential fairness," said Don Wolthuis, deputy commonwealth’s attorney for Roanoke and a former federal prosecutor. “And he understood both the law and mercy.”
In 1996, Kiser fined himself for being late to court, doling out the same justice he levied on tardy attorneys.
A former legal clerk described Kiser’s chambers as an ideal setting for learning akin to “advanced law school.”
“Clerking for him was the best thing I did for my professional career,” said Roanoke Circuit Court Judge David Carson, who clerked for Kiser in 1988 and 1989. “He’s the kind of judge every lawyer wants and every judge wants to be.”
Kiser, a trial lawyer before he took the bench, appeared to courtroom observers to truly enjoy overseeing jury trials and sometimes commented on attorneys' efforts. “He would comment, 'That was a good cross,’” said Tom Bondurant, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice.
Jackson Lintecum Kiser was born in 1929 in Welch, West Virginia. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Concord College in West Virginia in 1951 and a law degree from Washington and Lee University in 1952, ranking third in a class of 60. He served three years in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army and was a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1955 to 1961. In addition, he was a U.S. Commissioner for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia from 1956 to 1958. He worked as an assistant U.S. attorney until 1961, when he resigned the post as the office underwent change following election of John F. Kennedy.
Kiser took up private practice from 1961 to 1981 and was with Young, Kiser, Haskins, Mann, Gregory and Young, primarily a civil law firm in Martinsville.
President Ronald Reagan nominated Kiser to be a federal judge and he started in 1982. “A judgeship calls into play all your professional training as a lawyer. I think it’s a good way to render public service,” he said at the time.