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Thomas J. Moyer, who led Ohio’s Supreme Court for nearly a quarter-century and was the nation’s longest-serving active state chief justice, died unexpectedly Friday afternoon.

Moyer, 70, had been admitted to Columbus’s Riverside Methodist Hospital Thursday morning with a gastro-intestinal ailment that was not thought to be life-threatening, according to court spokesman Chris Davey.

Moyer had not been feeling well for several weeks, Davey said, but continued to work a full schedule. He heard oral arguments in cases before the court on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Overnight Thursday, “his condition deteriorated,” Davey said. “We were informed today [Friday] that it was not looking good.” Doctors declared Moyer dead at 4 p.m..

Moyer became chief justice of the state’s high court in January 1987. He was the second-longest serving chief in Ohio Supreme Court history. The longest was Carl V. Weygandt, who served 30 years, from 1933 to 1962.

Moyer, who would have turned 71 later this month, planned to leave the bench when his term expired at the end of 2010. State law prohibits candidates from seeking judicial office past the age of 70.

Current Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, and Franklin County Probate Court Judge Eric Brown, a Democrat, will face each other on the November ballot for chief, in a race that is shaping up to be one of the nation’s most closely watched court elections.

Until then, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland will appoint someone to finish Moyer’s term.

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Article courtesy cleveland.com