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Posted March 21, 2011

Kinser '77 Awarded Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law

Kinser

Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser, a 1977 graduate of the Law School, is the 2011 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law.

“Cynthia Kinser’s appointment as the first female chief justice of Virginia was a momentous event for her, for the Law School and for the Commonwealth,” said Dean Paul G. Mahoney. “We are honored to be able to present her the Jefferson Medal in Law.”

Kinser is a distinguished jurist and attorney who was a groundbreaking legal figure in her native Southwest Virginia long before she joined the state Supreme Court. She was raised — and still resides — in Pennington Gap, a town in Lee County only 10 miles from the Kentucky border.

Kinser completed her undergraduate education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. After graduating from the Law School, she clerked for Judge Glen M. Williams of the Western District of Virginia before entering private practice in Southwest Virginia, where she was one of the only female practicing attorneys at the time.

In 1980, Kinser was elected as Lee County’s first female commonwealth’s attorney. After one term as a prosecutor, she returned to private practice in Pennington Gap. In 1990, Kinser was appointed a U.S. magistrate judge for the Western District of Virginia.

In a profile of Kinser in the Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly published in 1997, Williams praised her work as a magistrate judge and noted that lawyers had come to trust her and would often consent to her hearing a case, including holding a jury trial.

In 1997, Gov. George Allen ’77 appointed her to the Supreme Court of Virginia. In 2010, she was elected by her colleagues to serve as chief justice, succeeding Leroy Rountree Hassell.

Kinser still regularly plays the pipe organ at First United Methodist in Pennington Gap, her childhood church, according to a December profile in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and served on the Virginia 4-H Foundation’s board of directors from 1987-90.

As part of the medal events, Kinser will speak at the Law School on “Attaining Justice Within the Bounds of Appellate Review” at 3:30 p.m. in Caplin Pavilion.

The Thomas Jefferson Medal in Law and its counterparts in architecture and civic leadership are the highest external honors bestowed by the University, which grants no honorary degrees. The awards recognize the achievements of those who embrace endeavors that Jefferson — author of the Declaration of Independence, third U.S. president and founder of the University of Virginia — excelled in and held in high regard.

Sponsored jointly by the University and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello, the annual awards are conferred during the University's Founder's Day celebrations, held around Jefferson's birthday on April 13. In addition to receiving a medal struck for the occasion, recipients will attend ceremonies in the Rotunda and a dinner at Monticello.