IN MEMORY OF
THE HONORABLE THOMAS PENFIELD JACKSON
JUDGE ROYCE C. LAMBERTH , THE FORMER CHIEF JUDGE OF THE U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA,
DELIVERED THESE REMARKS AT A MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR JUDGE JACKSON ON JULY 10, 2013.
I’m honored to be here today to speak, on behalf of all of my colleagues at the U.S.
District Court for the District of Columbia, about our dear friend, Judge Thomas Penfield
Among the public, the bar, and his colleagues, Judge Jackson was known to be a hard
working jurist of sound judgment, who tried his cases efficiently and competently, while
treating everyone who came before him with dignity, equanimity, and fairness. He handled
some of the most difficult and complex cases of the day – the Microsoft antitrust case, the
prosecution of Marion Barry, and the Ethics Committee’s pursuit of Senator Bob Packwood’s
Through all the tribulations, Judge Jackson remained gracious and composed, always
aiming toward the highest aspirations of the law. He set a standard for me and many of the
judges who followed him on our bench.
But beyond his public persona, those of us who had the good luck of being able to spend
lunch with him each day in our judges’ dining room got to know a warm-hearted gentleman,
who could entertain us for hours with his keen knowledge of history, his incredibly detailed
memory of the historical novels he had just read, and, most of all, his priceless sense of humor.
I will never forget those lunch-time conversations, and for them will be forever grateful.
As federal judges, we are often lightning rods for criticism when a ruling doesn’t go the
right way for a litigant. With the many high-profile cases he handled, Judge Jackson had his
share of critics. But I’ve found it interesting, while reading his many obituaries, to see how
many of them portray him as an outspoken, but principled, judge who most often turned out to
be right. And as he neared retirement, his advocacy for the right of judges to be able to
communicate with the media to rebut public misperceptions and foster more informed and
thoughtful reporting, set off a healthy debate that I believe has led to a more open and
Judge Jackson’s public persona was that of a larger than life figure who presided over
some of the most complex and difficult cases in the Court’s history. With his white hair and
stage-quality deep voice, he was once described as being sent from central casting for the part.
But for those of us who knew him well, he was a genuine and highly respected friend who day
in and day out was hard working, intellectually honest, and scrupulously fair in every decision
he made. His presence will be greatly missed.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PRINTED IN THE LEGAL TIMES ON JUNE 17, 2013, AND IS BEING REPRINTED WITH
PERMISSION FROM THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL/LEGAL TIMES.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, 76, Dies
By Zoe Tillman
Retired U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who died over the weekend, was known
for pushing boundaries, on and off the bench.
As a judge in the District of Columbia’s federal trial court, he famously ordered the breakup of
Microsoft Corp., for antitrust violations. A year later, a federal appeals court vacated his order
and removed him for public comments made about the case. As a litigator at Washington’s
Jackson & Campbell for nearly 20 years before joining the bench, he had a reputation as a fierce
trial lawyer who landed big wins in medical malpractice cases.
“Judge Jackson’s public persona was that of a larger than life figure who presided over some of
the most complex and difficult cases in the court’s history,” U.S. District Chief Judge Royce
Lamberth said in a statement today. “With his white hair and stage-quality deep voice, he was
once described as being sent from central casting for the part. But to those of us who knew him
well, he was a genuine and highly respected friend who day in and day out was hard working,
intellectually honest and scrupulously fair in every decision he made.”
Jackson died of complications from cancer on June 15. He was 76.
Jackson was confirmed to the city’s federal trial court in the summer of 1982. A 1989 profile in
the Legal Times quoted lawyers describing him as a “no-nonsense” jurist who was fair and,
given his litigation background, appreciated a well-tried case.
U.S. District Senior Judge Thomas Hogan Jr. said Jackson was “formidable, both as an opponent
in court…a well as a judge, in the sense he made decisions and people knew where he stood
and he stood by them.” Hogan joined the D.C. federal court bench the same year as Jackson
and had gone up against him in court when the two were still practicing attorneys.
In 1991, Jackson presided over the criminal prosecution of D.C. Councilmember and former
mayor Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) for cocaine possession. Barry was sentenced to six months in
In the late 1990s, Jackson oversaw the United States v. Microsoft Corp. antitrust trial. In the
summer of 2000, he ordered the company to break up into two separate companies after
finding Microsoft exploited federal antitrust laws. On appeal, though, Microsoft pointed to
Jackson’s public statements about the case – in one instance, he compared Bill Gates to
Napoleon – as proof of bias.
A year after Jackson’s ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found the judge acted
improperly and sent the case back to the trial court, this time in front of a different judge. The
appeals court vacated Jackson’s order to break up the company, but affirmed the judge’s
finding that Microsoft violated antitrust laws.
In 2002, Jackson published a column in The National Law Journal defending the right of federal
judges to speak publicly about their cases. “I know of no good reason why a judge who has
made a decision, in a case of obvious interest and concern to many people, should not at least
be willing, if not expected, to respond to legitimate inquiries about it from responsible
interlocutors, whether they are lawyers, academics, students, journalists, historians, or the
local garden club,” the judge wrote at the time.
Hogan said Jackson was motivated by a “good faith” desire to make sure the press accurately
reported on court proceedings. “He wanted to contribute to the better understanding of some
of these mega cases,” he said.
Jackson took senior status in 2002 and retired in 2004. After leaving the court, he returned to
Jackson & Campbell to establish an international commercial arbitration practice. “I know he
loved doing the work,” firm director and former managing partner Nicholas McConnell said,
noting Jackson had been working until recently.
Even after leaving the bench, Jackson continued to make headlines. In 2007, he testified for an
embattled former D.C. federal prosecutor, G. Paul Howes, who faced ethics charges and was
eventually disbarred. The judge had presided over the gang prosecution that landed Howes in
trouble and recused himself in 2000 after allegations of misconduct surfaced against the
Jackson, who was born in 1937, was a native Washingtonian. After earning his law degree in
1964 from Harvard Law School, he went to work for Jackson & Campbell, which his father had
helped establish. McConnell said Jackson was a “star” of the local bar, noting he had just been
elected president of the D.C. Bar when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the bench.
McConnell recalled a malpractice case Jackson defended on behalf of Georgetown University
Hospital. McConnell said American International Group Inc., or AIG, was closely following the
case because the financial services company would be on the hook if Georgetown lost. Given
the “potentially explosive” verdict at stake, McConnell said the AIG representative urged
Jackson to settle, but Jackson refused. Jackson won the case, and McConnell said that because
of that one case, AIG became a regular client of the firm.
Jackson “was the best law partner, mentor of young attorneys, and consummate professional
imaginable,” McConnell said via email. “Although Tom left thirty years ago for appointment as a
United States District Judge, this law firm, the work we do, and the way we go about it still
proudly reflect his time among us.”
IN MEMORY OF