Courtroom portrait ceremony honors retired federal judge Conrad Cyr

Posted Aug. 10, 2009, at 9:09 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — It is a long-standing tradition that portraits of federal judges be placed in the courthouses where their offices were located after they retire.

So U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said Monday it bothered him that there was no portrait of retired 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Conrad K. Cyr in the courtroom where Woodcock most often sits. After all, it is the same courtroom in the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building on Harlow Street where Cyr con-ducted trials and handed down rulings for nearly a decade in the 1980s.

Portraits of the other Mainers who have served on the appellate court in Boston hang in the federal courthouse in Portland. Large photos of former U.S. District Judges George Mitchell, who served for 10 months from 1979 to 1980, and Morton Brody, who served from 1991 until his death in 2000 at age 66, hang in the Bangor courtroom.

Woodcock said at a ceremony Monday unveiling the photographic portrait of Cyr that will hang in the courtroom how he learned there was indeed a large photograph of Cyr. He said he learned that Cyr was so fond of it, he had taken it home with him when he retired from the appellate court bench.

“I knew enough to know that he’s a man of his own mind,” Woodcock told a room packed with federal judges and local lawyers, “and that it was likely not a casual act, but one he’d given considerable thought to. I also knew that I was not going to be the one to approach Judge Cyr and tell him where to hang his portrait.”

Woodcock, however, did make the call. When Cyr got on the phone, the younger jurist quickly launched into his pitch about why the portrait should hang in the courtroom.

“I wait. There was a long silence,” Woodcock said. “Then Judge Cyr said, ‘I like the portrait right where it is.’ So I made an ill-prepared oral motion for reconsideration. After a long silence, Judge Cyr said, ‘I think you are right. It does belong in a courthouse.’”

The photo will hang over the door Woodcock and other judges walk through each time they enter and leave the courtroom. It will replace the portrait of Mitchell, which will be moved a few feet away to a side wall, Woodcock said after the ceremony.

In addition to Woodcock, appellate court Judges Frank M. Coffin, whose portrait hangs in the federal courthouse in Portland; Kermit V. Lipez, who replaced Cyr; and Sandra L. Lynch of Boston, all Cyr’s former colleagues, spoke at the event. Other speakers included former U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Joe Lee of Kentucky and three of Cyr’s former law clerks, all of whom live in Maine.

“After all these years, I still feel this is the finest courthouse I’ve ever lived in,” Cyr said at the end of the 75-minute ceremony. “It’s been quite a journey and I am deeply honored.”

Cyr, 77, was born in Limestone and attended local schools, according to information in the program for Monday’s event. He earned his undergraduate degree in 1953 from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and received his law degree in 1956 from Yale University Law School in New Haven, Conn.

He returned home and set up a private practice in Limestone. His office was located above the family business, the Cyr Department Store, Lipez said. Cyr, who had been a star athlete in high school, continued to play baseball on local teams as a lawyer.

Cyr moved in 1959 to Bangor, where he worked as a federal prosecutor until 1961, when he became a referee for the bankruptcy court. He also helped write the rules for bankruptcy court and the legislation that created the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in its present form and which included judges rather than referees. In 1973, he was appointed a U.S. bankruptcy judge for Maine.

During his tenure as a bankruptcy judge, Cyr founded the American Bankruptcy Law Journal. In November 2008 he received the Norton Judicial Excellence Award, which recognizes lifetime achievement in scholarship, writing and service to the bankruptcy system.

President Reagan appointed Cyr to the U.S. District Court bench in 1981. He served in that position until 1989, when President George H.W. Bush appointed him to succeed Coffin on the appellate court in Boston. Cyr took senior status in early 1997 and retired last year.

He and his wife, Diana Sanborn Cyr, live in Brewer. Diana Cyr and the couple’s two sons, Keefe Cyr and Jeffrey Cyr, unveiled the portrait.

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