Gainesville funeral service Saturday for former Chief Justice Ben Overton
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 2:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 2:39 p.m.
A funeral service in Gainesville for former Florida Supreme Court Justice Ben F. Overton will be Saturday at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Overton, 86, died Dec. 29 in Gainesville from complications from heart surgery. He earned his law degree from the University of Florida, where he also served as an adjunct law professor.
"He is the profile of what you would expect a judge to be. He was smart, fair. He wrote some terrifically important opinions in education, privacy and a broad number of constitutional areas," said UF Levin College of Law dean emeritus Jon Mills. "He was an independent thinker. When he was on the bench, he could look pretty fearful."
Mills, also a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, said he had several cases before Overton when Overton was on the court but got to know him better once he started teaching at UF.
Overton cared deeply about teaching and would take his students to oral arguments at the Supreme Court, Mills said, adding the justices often would have lunch with Overton and the students.
Current Chief Justice Ricky Polston spoke about Overton's legacy in Florida law in a Supreme Court news release.
"Justice Overton was one of the most influential members of the Court after the sweeping reforms of the 1970s," Polston said. "He will be remembered not only for his far-seeing opinions but also for his efforts in the 1970s to make the state courts more accessible by allowing cameras into our courtrooms."
Overton attended UF as an undergraduate and earned his law degree in 1952. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1974, served as chief justice from 1976-78 and retired in 1999.
In 2001, Overton began working as an adjunct professor at UF, a post he held until his death. Overton taught classes in Florida constitutional law and the Florida Supreme Court.
Overton wrote more than 1,400 decisions while on the state Supreme Court and was a central figure in a vast series of reforms that made his court one of the most respected and accessible in the nation, according to the news release.
Under Overton, Florida was one of the first states to allow television coverage of court cases and was instrumental in making the court one of the first to have a website.
The Gainesville service at 10:30 a.m. will be one of three for Overton. On Monday, he will lie in state in the Supreme Court building in Tallahassee. The final service will be at noon on Jan. 9 at St. Anne of Grace Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg. Burial will follow in St. Petersburg.
Overton was preceded in death by his wife, Marilyn. He is survived by his children, Judge William H. Overton, Robert M. Overton and Catherine L. Overton; two grandsons, William and Brian; and one great-grandchild, Adelynn.
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