'Champion of children': Local leaders pay tribute to late Pa. Supreme Court Chief Justice Max Baer

Max Baer, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, has died at the age of 74, the court confirmed on Saturday. His death comes just months before he was set to retire.

Baer's "sudden passing" came overnight at his home near Pittsburgh, the court said in a news release. Justice Debra Todd is reportedly set to become chief justice.

"Chief Justice Baer was an influential and intellectual jurist whose unwavering focus was on administering fair and balanced justice," Todd said. "He was a tireless champion for children, devoted to protecting and providing for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe has ordered all commonwealth flags to fly half staff in honor of the "respected and esteemed jurist."

"I'm extremely saddened to learn that Chief Justice Baer passed away," Wolf said. "He was a respected and esteemed jurist with decades of service to our courts and our commonwealth. I am grateful for his contributions and leadership in the Supreme Court."

The Philadelphia Bar Association called Baer's death a "huge loss for the Commonwealth."

"Chief Justice Baer has provided steady and effective leadership on the Court and will leave behind a legacy of strong advocacy for children and families that led to innovative and far-reaching reforms with respect to the treatment of juveniles and domestic relations matters."

House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton remembered Baer as a "giant in the Pennsylvania legal community" and "champion of the commonwealth’s children." She went on to say she has "no doubt that his legacy to Pennsylvania will endure."

The Pennsylvania Bar Association released the following statement in tribute of the chief justice:

"The passing of Chief Justice Baer brings a wave of tremendous sadness to those who had the privilege of working with him and to those who knew him for a well-earned reputation of fairness, kindness and caring. Chief Justice Baer led by example. He focused on improving the operations of Pennsylvania’s appellate courts, listening intently to members of the bar and acting with purpose to improve the public’s and legal professional’s interactions with the court. Chief Justice Baer was selfless, investing his efforts in making Pennsylvania courts better for all of us. He often shied away from the spotlight, instead focusing on the successes of his colleagues."

Funeral arrangement have yet to be announced.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.