BOSTON (AP) — The chief justice of the highest court in Massachusetts has announced his retirement after nearly 37 years as a judge.

In a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick Monday, Chief Justice Roderick Ireland of the Supreme Judicial Court said he will retire in July.

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Ireland is the first black chief justice in the court’s history.

He has served in that position since 2010.

In his letter, Ireland said he will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 late this year and decided to step down before the court’s new term begins in September to ensure a smooth transition for his successor.

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Ireland was appointed to the high court in 1997.

Patrick called Ireland an “effective, compassionate and wise leader.”

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