Former Supreme Court Justice Raymond Ehrlich — scholar, mentor, and friend — died July 12 in Tallahassee at age 87.
Known as a studious justice who put in long hours, Ehrlich worked most weekends and always wore a signature bow tie. He was greatly admired in the legal community and among government officials.
“This is a man who enriched the lives of everybody he befriended,” said former Bar President Terry Russell. “The one thing I
found about Ray Ehrlich uniquely is everyone felt like his best friend. He made everyone feel like there was no one more important than them.
“I was practicing for 35 years, and I was still calling him for advice. He was the mentor’s mentor,” said Russell. As a justice, Russell said, “his opinions were beautifully written and beautifully thought out.”
Born in Swainsboro, Georgia, in 1918, Ehrlich practiced law in Jacksonville from 1946 until his appointment to the state’s high court in December 1981 by Gov. Bob Graham. During his time as chief justice from 1988 to 1990, he oversaw a major renovation and expansion of the Supreme Court building and released a major study of gender bias in the Florida legal system that led to significant reforms in the law and legal culture affecting women.
After reaching mandatory retirement age in January 1991, Ehrlich left the Florida Supreme Court and returned to Jacksonville to practice law as a partner with the firm of Holland & Knight for many more years.
“Justice Ehrlich was quite correctly called a lawyer’s lawyer when Gov. Bob Graham appointed him to the court in 1981,” said Chief Justice Barbara J. Pariente. “At that point he already had about 35 years’ experience practicing law in Jacksonville, but he went on to prove himself a judge’s judge with a towering intellect in his nine years of work here in Tallahassee. He will be sorely missed by all of us.”
“Ray Ehrlich represented what every lawyer wanted to be — and should want to be: Committed to excellence in the practice of law, the highest level of integrity, and helping people unable to help themselves,” said Florida Bar President-elect Hank Coxe, who knew Ehrlich for almost 30 years. “Our profession is incredibly better off from his presence. We will miss his jokes — as horrible as many of them were.”
Bar President Alan Bookman called Erhlich “a pillar of the legal community.”
“He practiced law and served the state of Florida on the bench with dignity and distinction,” Bookman said. “All lawyers should be well-advised to follow his example of professionalism.”
Ehrlich grew up in Crescent City, Florida, where he attended public schools. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1939 and his law degree in 1942, both from the University of Florida, where he also was president of Florida Blue Key. Ehrlich served in Navy durring World War II, obtaining the rank of lieutenant commander.