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Judge Francis J Fornelli puts on his robe before sentencing court, shortly before his retirement, while talking with Judge Robert Yeatts, who replaced Fornelli on Mercer County Common Pleas Court.

MERCER – Senior Judge Francis J. Fornelli, who served 21 years as president judge on the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas, died Tuesday, a day after his 81st birthday.

The court announced Fornelli’s death Tuesday.

Fornelli was one of the longest-serving judges in Mercer County history, having joined court in 1982 and remaining until the end of 2011. For 21 of those years, he served as the president judge.

At 40 upon his election to common pleas court, he was the youngest judge in county history.

He also served for about 30 years as a member of the State Judicial Ethics Committee.

Fornelli was universally respected by lawyers, defendants and his peers.

During his time on the state ethics committee, Fornelli served with Lehigh County Judge Edward Reibman, who called him a “judge’s judge” in a 2012 interview for “Life and Times,” The Herald’s senior lifestyles magazine.

Fornelli graduated magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame. He earned his law degree from NYU School of Law, where he was a Root-Tilden Law Scholar, a scholarship named after former New York Gov. Samuel Tilden and former Secretary of State Elihu Root and intended to encourage public service among law school graduates.

Fornelli served on numerous boards of directors for religious, charitable, and civic organizations in Mercer County.

A devout Catholic, Fornelli once considered entering the priesthood and taught religious education for more than 40 years.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

NOTE: This article has been edited to correct the day of Judge Fornelli's death.

Follow Melissa Klaric on twitter @HeraldKlaric or email her at mklaric@sharonherald.com

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