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What kind of judge?


As a trial judge of many years, I have a great many memories of interesting things which have happened in court proceedings. Many of my close relatives have a favorite among the many stories I have told them. I will try to recount a couple of them.

My older brother, Roger, is a machinist at a factory in the town where I sit as a district court judge. In the course of his job, he comes into contact with a large number of people who also appear before me as litigants in lawsuits or as defendants in criminal cases. On numerous occasions, he has been approached by someone with whom he works and has been asked, “Hey, are you any relation to that Judge Barnett?” Roger learned very quickly that the best answer is another question, as he responds with, “Why do you want to know?” If they are unhappy with the local judge, Roger promptly denies any relationship, and if they are happy with said judge, he claims me as his little brother and takes credit for having taught me everything I know.

My brother-in-law, D.L. Sykes, has a favorite story which I can tell only after putting aside my pride. Many years ago, when I was a relatively new trial judge, I heard a mental health case involving a man who had been a public school student of D.L. and whom he remembered well. At the request of this gentleman’s family, the State had filed a petition seeking to have him committed for treatment as a mentally ill person.

Pending the hearing, the man was held in the custody of the sheriff. Just before the hearing, he was brought into the courtroom by the jailer and seated. Shortly thereafter, my bailiff preceded me into the courtroom and ordered all to rise as I entered the courtroom. All rose, except the man who was the subject of the proceeding. Of course, I thought nothing of his failure to respond to the bailiff’s instruction, that being consistent with the State’s allegation of mental incompetence.

Sometime after the hearing had concluded and I had ordered the subject to be committed to a mental health facility for treatment, the jailer came into my office and assured me that he had instructed the subject to rise when the bailiff opened court. After the hearing he asked him why he had not stood when the judge came into the court room. He is reported to have responded, “I’m not ever going to stand up for that fat, bald-headed little judge!” Mr. Sykes always derives great pleasure from this story, so I think it may as well be preserved in writing.

Honorable David Barnett Contributing Columnist David Barnett Contributing Columnist

By David Barnett

For the Press-Leader


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