JUNE 24, 2015
I’m happy to have a few minutes to offer personal
reflections on my late colleague, Judge Thomas
Penfield Jackson. I had the pleasure of getting to know him
from both sides of the bench. Early on, I appeared before him
numerous times as a trial lawyer. Indeed, I recall trying a 10-
week case before him 25 years ago this month. Later, I served
as his colleague after I joined the court 8 years later.
What you noticed about him on your first encounter was
that warm and sonorous baritone that was the envy of every
would-be orator or vocalist. I noticed, because I counted myself
among those would-be’s. And then you looked at him. You
could not help but be taken by his full gray mane, always well
And I could look more closely after I joined the bench. I
could see more of his square-jawed visage, jowls at the ready to
present a stern face when needed, but quick to give way to his
mischievous grin and penchant as a raconteur. His great storytelling sometimes generated some competition and jostling at the
annual judges’ dinner for who would get to sit at the table with
him and Pat.
One that he told that I will never forget was about the three
men who went duck hunting. One was a law professor, one was
an appellate judge, and one was a trial judge. They each took
turns at trying to bag a duck. The law professor went
first. When a flock of winged creatures appeared overhead, the
law professor lectured: “A recent law review article I read
quoted the Williston on Contracts treatise that cited favorably a
case upholding a contract that defined a duck as having a light
colored beak with a dark tail. Those overhead are likely
ducks.” But by the time the professor raised his shotgun to fire,
the winged ones were gone. It was next the appellate judge’s
turn. He saw some avian creatures flying in the sky. The
appellate judge declared: “The Supreme Court issued an opinion
last term in a case involving protection extended to ducks under
the Environmental Protection Act, and it defined ducks as
having a wingspan of a certain width and plumage bearing
certain colors. And so I conclude that those are ducks.” Once
again, though, by the time he raised his shotgun, the avian
creatures had flown away. Next, it was the trial judge’s
turn. When some birds flew overhead – – POW. The trial judge
fired his shotgun upward, bagged one, and said “sure hope it was
a duck!”
But more than that, I profited from the door he always kept
open to me when I came seeking – – as a novice judge, and as a
not-too-novice judge – – advice that only one with his wisdom
could impart. His knowledge of the law was deep, forged of his
mix of years of private practice and breadth of judicial
experience. His writing was crisp and clear. We made a bit of
an odd couple: a white suburban Maryland guy appointed by a
Republican, and a black urban New York City guy appointed by
a Democrat, who came to harbor for each other great respect and
His is one of the portraits to which my eye is always drawn
when I look about our ceremonial courtroom in the Prettyman
courthouse. I pass by Courtroom 2 on the second floor of the
Prettyman building and have fond memories of having appeared
before him, and I pass by his former chambers on the second
floor and I picture the welcome he often afforded me. I offer a
salute to a warm and helpful departed colleague, and I thank his
family here today for sharing him with us.
Richard W. Roberts
Chief Judge
United States District Court
District of Columbia