Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser, a 1977 graduate of the U.Va. School of Law, 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," Dean Paul G. Mahoney said. "We are honored to be able to present her with the medal in law."
Kinser, 59, 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.
She 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 only a few women practicing law.
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, she 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 Kinser's work as a magistrate judge, noting that lawyers had come to trust her and would often consent to her hearing a case, something magistrates don't usually do.
In 1997, Gov. George Allen, a Law School classmate of Kinser's, appointed her to the Supreme Court of Virginia. In 2010, she was elected by her colleagues to serve as chief justice, succeeding the late Leroy Rountree Hassell.