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Attorneys, Court Staff Bid Fond Farewell to Retiring Judge
BY ANANTA PANCHAM — MARCH 17, 2010
U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Geoffrey Barnard retires after 28 years on the Virgin Islands District Court bench.
What was meant to be a heartfelt sendoff for U.S. Magistrate Judge Geoffrey Barnard turned into a mini-roast Wednesday night, as numerous speakers got up to share their funniest memories of the man that has spent the last two decades on the V.I. District Court bench. Barnard has served as a magistrate judge at District Court since 1982 -- a position that he took on full time in 1986 and has been reappointed to three times over the past 28 years. Speaking after the ceremony hosted by the V.I. Bar Association Wednesday at Grand Cru on St. Thomas, Barnard said that when his most recent eight-year term was up, he decided it was time to take a break.
"I love what I do, and will be available whenever I'm needed, but I felt the time had come not to seek reappointment," Barnard said, adding that he now plans on taking a vacation, spending time with his grandchildren and working with the District Court when he's called on to serve by Presiding Judge Curtis Gomez.
The judge lamented that he would miss the camaraderie of the court and working with the attorneys he helped shepherd through the system as chairman of the association's Bar Examiner's Committee, which is tasked with examining and admitting all attorneys seeking to practice law in the territory.
"It's probably not a good thing to say, but I like lawyers," Barnard joked to the packed crowd filled with prominent attorneys, sitting judges and District Court staff. Barnard said he liked talking with the local attorneys, working with them and trying to help them solve their problems.
One of the younger attorneys joked that Barnard was so involved in their lives that he was "better than the Island Trader" when it came to helping them find the things they need around the island.
"If you ever wanted the whole island to know what was going on with you, you'd go to Judge Barnard," said attorney Tim Abraham. "It's like if you just broke up with your girlfriend, you'd tell the judge, 'Hey, I'm single now,' and you'd start getting phone calls by the end of the day."
Like many of the night's speakers, Abraham's friendly teasing gave way to genuine emotion when he talked seriously about how Barnard influenced his life.
"When I think of Judge Barnard, I think of someone who's a great public servant, who's even-keeled and classy," Abraham said.
Barnard's reputation for being fair on the bench was mentioned more than a dozen times throughout the evening, both by attorneys and staff, some who've known him for as much as 40 years.
"In the courtroom, he always gave everybody the opportunity to say what he or she wanted to say," said former Superior Court Judge Henry L. Feuerzeig, a longtime friend of Barnard's. "He always listened to you, was courteous and made his decisions based on how he saw things."
Feuerzeig, who shared stories about the personal moments the two families have experienced over the years, added that he hopes that in his retirement, Barnard will now have more time to watch his beloved New York Jets play football.
It was personal moments such as these that really made the evening and painted a picture of Barnard as a well-rounded and compassionate man. Along with singing in his church choir, Barnard has worked in local soup kitchens, is an accomplished musician, has a love of modern dance and ballet, speaks Spanish fluently after having studied in Madrid and was a member of St. Croix's rugby team.
His work as an attorney on St. Croix put him in the trenches with the likes of now V.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge and attorney Tom Alkon, who shared several stories Wednesday about how they passed the time between cases, or the humorous advice Barnard gave them while on the job.
Alkon recalled how he and some of the other attorneys would frequently play chess during their daily sauna session, and how Barnard's swift skills often won him the game. Except once.
"We were working on a real estate case at the time," Alkon said. "I remember this time, I beat him, and as soon as that happened, he put down his piece, picked up the chess board and threw it across the room."
The crowd whooped and cheered while Alkon told the story -- and even more when Barnard muttered a retort under his breath. But it was clear, by the end of the ceremony, that Barnard had personally touched the lives of everyone in the room -- along with pretty much everyone he's come in contact with while working with the bar association.
V.I. Bar Association President Ruth Miller showed the breadth of Barnard's influence when she read two emails written by attorneys who had met Barnard years before, while they were sitting for the exam on St. Thomas. One of the emails, from a naval attorney on the mainland, recalled that Barnard had brought all of the attorneys sitting the exam a boxed lunch, then proceeded to talk to them about their experiences on the islands.
The other described Barnard as an "intelligent, fair and personable person," one that he remembered every time he passed the courthouse en route to St. John.
Along with the high praise, Barnard was also showered with keepsakes Wednesday, including an official U.S. Marshal Service cap, cufflinks, plaque and lapel pins, along with a custom-made gavel from the V.I. Bar Association, with the judge's name and court history inscribed on the gavel and plate.
Speaking to the audience after the presentations, Barnard said he was "overwhelmed" by the kindness and generosity of the bar and its attorneys, and was "honored" that they found him "worthy" of such a ceremony.
"But as I sum up now, I feel confident that your verdict is favorable," he joked, gavel in hand.
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