Saturday, February 19, 2005

On the late Judge Merhige

A lawyer of my age and location knows of the great federal judges from Virginia during the 20th century mainly by reputation, history books, and old lawyer stories: among others, these include Judge Hoffman for whom the courthouse is named in Norfolk, Judge Bryan for whom the courthouse is named in Alexandria, Judge Dalton in Roanoke.

The Richmond paper reports here that Judge Robert Merhige died on Friday at age 86. The headline reads: "He was a giant of law," and he was. This story contains Judge Merhige reflections on school integration, 50 years after Brown. His most famous ruling was system-wide integration in the Richmond metro area, including Henrico County where he lived.

In 1992, Controversy in the courts: A biography of Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr., by Ronald Bacigal, was published. Bending the Law : The Story of the Dalkon Shield Bankruptcy by Richard Sobol is one of several books detailing Judge Merhige's role in the A.H. Robins bankruptcy case.

I'm unable to write in this space what could or should be written about him, and so I'll resort to my usual nonsense instead. Judge Merhige was the speaker at my law school graduation in Williamsburg in 1989. He told the story that he applied to law school at William & Mary but had to withdraw once he discovered that it was not located in Richmond, where he had a job he needed to pay his way through school. So, he was a William & Mary law student for one day, after which he enrolled at T.C. Williams.

A few months ago, I sent an e-mail to Judge Merhige, written in my usual absurd manner, and laughed aloud at his bemused reply.

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