Former Delaware Justice Horsey dies at 91

DOVER — Retired Justice Henry Ridgely Horsey, who served on the Delaware Supreme Court from 1978 to 1994, died Thursday night at the age of 91.

“It was an honor for me to serve with Justice Horsey, who warmly welcomed me to the Delaware Supreme Court,” said Justice Randy J. Holland, speaking on behalf of the state’s Supreme Court.

“Justice Horsey continued a family tradition of judicial and public service that spans 250 years. Many of his opinions are landmark decisions on a wide variety of legal principles.”

Justice Horsey hailed from a family with deep Delaware roots and a long tradition of law and public service.

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Henry Ridgely Horsey

The roots run deeper than the state, as one forefather, Nicholas Ridgely of Eden Hill Farm, served as a judge of provincial Supreme Court of the three lower counties of the Pennsylvania Colony, an area that later became the state of Delaware.

Other family members served in Congress and on the state Supreme Court; his father was a state banking commissioner.

Born in Sussex County, Justice Horsey grew up in what he described in a 2005 interview with the Delaware State News as a modest frame house north of The Green on North State Street. The young man left Dover after the 10th grade and completed high school at Loomis Chaffe School in Connecticut.

He joined the Army during World War II and served for three years, from 1943 to 1946, first in the infantry and later in the combat engineers, with two years in the European Theater. Upon his discharge in 1946 as a sergeant, he resumed his education at Harvard College and Harvard Law School, graduating in 1952.

He was admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1953 and practiced law in Wilmington as an associate and then a partner at Berl, Potter & Anderson (now Potter, Anderson & Corroon) from 1953 to 1962. From 1962 until 1965, Justice Horsey served as a trust officer and assistant vice president of Wilmington Trust Co.

Upon returning to practicing law, he set up his office on the Green in Dover, in the house he inherited from his grandmother. He later served in the Delaware Attorney General’s Office for several years.

In 1969 he joined the Dover office of Morris, James, Hitchens & Williams, until 1978 when he was appointed to the Delaware Supreme Court.

Court years

During his tenure on the state’s highest court, Justice Horsey authored more than 200 published opinions. Many of his opinions became landmark decisions, most notably his opinion in Riley v. State, which became the format for the seminal holding by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1986 case Batson v. United States, which prohibits attorneys from removing prospective jurors during jury selection in criminal proceedings based on race.

Many other opinions by Justice Horsey are landmark rulings in regard to principles of corporate governance.

At the 1984 Superior Court investiture of Henry DuPont Ridgley, who would later go on to become a Delaware Supreme Court Justice as well, Justice Horsey passed on to his young relative the “Ten Commandments for a New Judge.”

“First and foremost, be kind. Second, be patient. Third, be industrious. Four, be prompt. Five, there is no unimportant case. Six, give the office the prestige and dignity expected of it. Seven, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Eight, be tolerant of appellant courts if and when you are reversed. Nine, don’t leave home or the courthouse without your most precious tool, common sense. Ten, pray for divine guidance.”

In August 2014, Justice Horsey donated about 20 cubic feet of historic documents — including letters, legal papers and personal records — to the Delaware Public Archives. Some of the papers in the collection date back more than 250 years

He was inspired to do so because of the influence of his grandmother, Mabel Lloyd Ridgely, for whom the Archives’ research room is named. She helped develop the Archives, and Justice Horsey said in 2014 he simply felt the documents should reside there.

“This is where they belong,” he said.

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