Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Editor's Message: A Shining Example Of Public Service

By Ed Comey

It’s been more than 12 years, but I can still remember Judge James M. Barton swearing me in to The Florida Bar like it was yesterday. I practically sprinted to the courthouse with my oath of admission as soon as I was eligible to take it. Fortunately, Judge Barton was gracious enough to administer the oath to a young lawyer he didn’t know who showed up at his chambers unannounced, even taking time afterward to explain to me the responsibilities that came with this new profession I was embarking on. I’m honored to have the opportunity to return the favor by writing a tribute to Judge Barton upon his retirement.

But where do I start? I suppose I could list all the awards he’s won, like the Robert W. Patton Outstanding Jurist Award (twice). If I wanted to add a personal touch, I suppose I could tell you some things you probably already know about him: He loves New Orleans and jazz music. Even better, I could tell you some things you may not know. For instance, he was once a redhead — at least until the dye from a (good or bad) Alaskan-cruise salon experience wore off. He also has an exquisite or unrefined sense of fashion, depending on how you feel about Tabasco ties. But none of those things adequately capture Judge Barton’s legacy.

In considering what would, I’m reminded of something Malcolm Forbes said: “You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them.” Judge Barton has spent his entire judicial career helping those who could do nothing for him or to him by championing pro bono efforts so that all Florida residents would have access to justice. It would be impossible for me to list all of Judge Barton’s pro bono efforts here (I only have 500 words), and he probably wouldn’t want me to anyway.  

Suffice it to say, Judge Barton’s extraordinary pro bono efforts earned him the 2012 Distinguished Judicial Service Award from the Florida Supreme Court. In bestowing the award, Chief Justice Charles Canady noted that Judge Barton served as the chairman of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Pro Bono Committee for 17 years, during which he helped build a pro bono program that is a model throughout the state. On a state level, he helped launch the ONE Campaign, which seeks to improve the poor’s access to justice by challenging every attorney to take on one pro bono client. Justice Canady said it best when he said, “Judge Barton truly is a shining example of public service.”

In humbly accepting the Distinguished Judicial Service Award, Judge Barton asked those in the audience to remember the word “one.” One client. One attorney. One promise. As Judge Barton finishes his career, I’d ask that you remember the words he had me swear to when I started mine: “I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed ...”