U.S. judge in Maine wins award

Posted May 13, 2009, at 9:01 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A federal judge in Maine has been named recipient of the 27th annual Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award.

U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby, 65, of Cape Elizabeth said Wednesday he was “thrilled” to join the list of recipients, which includes mentors and former colleagues of his.

Previous recipients from Maine are former U.S. District Judge Edward T. Gignou and 1st U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Coffin.

Fellow U.S. District Judges George Singal and John Woodcock nominated Hornby for the prestigious award without his knowledge.

“They really kept it a secret,” Hornby said. “I only learned about it Monday afternoon in a conference call from [U.S. Supreme Court] Justice Anthony Kennedy.”

A three-member panel chaired by Kennedy chose Hornby, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Manitoba.

“From the early days of the Republic,” Kennedy said in a statement issued Tuesday, “the Courts have been one of our most important instruments for teaching respect for the law and the Constitution. Courts succeed in this mission only if their judges exemplify the law’s ideals. One of the federal judges who does this in a splen-did way is Judge Brock Hornby.

“By his life and his work,” Kennedy said, “by his scholarship and dedication, by a splendid judicial demeanor that demonstrates devotion to the law and confirms his own dignity and decency, [he] is a model for all judges. He was fortunate to work with Judges John Wisdom, Edward Gignoux and Frank Coffin, all of them dis-tinguished judges — and all recipients of the Devitt Award. They would be immensely proud, but not surprised, that Judge Hornby learned from their example, fulfilled their expectations, and honored this nation’s best traditions.”

Hornby clerked for Wisdom, who received the Devitt award in 1988 and was an appellate judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Gignoux named Hornby the first magistrate judge in Maine. While a student at Harvard Law School in the late 1960s, Hornby studied opinions written by Coffin, who was appointed in 1965 to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Collectively, they set the tone for me of how a judge ought to behave in a courtroom and in writing decisions,” Hornby said. “Judge Gignoux was a model of civility and decorum and always showed concern for people as human beings. Judge Coffin just has such a wonderful sense of humor and also modeled civility and caring.

“Judge Wisdom was courageous in implementing civil rights laws,” he said. “He had crosses burned on his lawn, rattlesnakes thrown at his house and his dogs were poisoned. He lost a lot of friends, but he felt it was important to uphold Brown vs. the Board of Education and made a commitment to do what was right.”

Woodcock said Wednesday that he and Singal decided last year to nominate Hornby for the honor.

“He has a combination of personal characteristics that make him ideal for the award,” Woodcock said. “He’s brilliant, thoughtful, kind, witty, courteous and even-tempered. But more than anything else, he’s a man whose brilliance never overshadows his humanity.”

Woodcock said it was highly unusual for three federal judges from a small state such as Maine to have won the award over its 27-year history.

Gignoux, for whom the federal courthouse in Portland is named, received the award in 1985. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him to the federal bench in 1957. During his 30-year career, Gignoux presided over several cases of national interest, including the contempt trial of the anti-Vietnam War defendants known as the Chicago Seven, and the bribery trial of a federal judge from Florida.

He formally retired in 1983 but continued to hear cases as a senior judge. A Portland native, Gignoux died in 1988 at age 72.

Coffin, 89, of South Portland received the award in 2000. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the Lewiston native to the appellate court in 1965. He retired from the federal bench last year,

The Devitt award is named for the late Edward J. Devitt, longtime chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The award, made annually, honors federal judges whose careers have been exemplary, measured by their significant contributions to the administration of justice, the advancement of the rule of law and the improvement of society as a whole.

It is administered by the American Judicature Society with funding provided by the Dwight D. Opperman Foundation in Minneapolis. The honor includes a $15,000 honorarium and is symbolized by an inscribed crystal obelisk. The award will be presented to Hornby at a ceremony later this year.

President George H.W. Bush appointed Hornby to U.S. District Court in 1990. From 1996 to 2003, he served as chief judge of the district. Before his federal court appointment, Hornby served on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for two years and as the first U.S. magistrate judge in Maine for six years.

He practiced law in Maine and was a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law earlier in his career. Hornby is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and the Harvard Law School.

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