Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes took the law seriously, but not himself.
Regularly gossiping with attorneys at breakfast in the courthouse cafeteria and inviting lawyers into his chambers, Barnes was known for his personable approach to justice and his sense of humor.
The judge would often indulge lawyers at the Atlanta Bar Association’s annual charity fund-raiser — where he appeared in skits wearing his underwear.
“How many judges would do that? He could laugh at himself better than anybody,” defense attorney Don Samuel said.
‘Giant in the legal community’
Members of Georgia’s legal community were shocked and saddened by Barnes’ killing Friday, allegedly by a defendant whose rape trial the judge was overseeing. His court reporter and a sheriff’s deputy also were killed.
Atlanta Bar Association President William M. Ragland Jr. called Barnes “a giant in the legal community.”
Along the quiet street where Barnes lived in suburban College Park, people hugged and comforted each other late Friday afternoon. Neighbors said he was passionate about preserving the established, wooded neighborhood where he and his wife, Claudia, lived.
“He was like a family man to the whole community,” said Shirley Howard, a neighbor of the Barneses for 18 years. “He was accessible to one and all, young and old, and had a great sense of community pride. He was everybody’s judge, everybody’s neighbor.”
Family, friends reel from loss
A patrol car blocked the home’s driveway. Fulton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Sanford Jones emerged from the house and asked for privacy for the family.
“They’re all very upset. This is a tragic, sudden, unexpected moment,” Jones said.
Jones and Barnes had been friends for 25 years, and Jones performed the marriage ceremony for Barnes and his wife.
He said Barnes’ wife works as a judicial assistant for another judge and was in the courthouse when her husband was killed.
Outside the courthouse, some witnesses and courthouse employees wept as they were gathered in the street.
Court Administrator Judith Cramer worked with Barnes for nearly a decade and said he was caring, patriotic and dedicated to his job. “He loved to give speeches about how lucky we were to be in America,” Cramer recalled in a telephone interview.
“He cared about people and protecting the community. He cared about every individual, and he was very balanced,” she said.
Barnes, 64, was named to the bench in 1998. He was a 1972 graduate of Emory Law School in Atlanta.
He drew national attention last month when he approved a plea agreement that required a mother of seven who pleaded guilty to killing her 5-week-old daughter to have a medical procedure that would prevent her from having more children.
He also handled the January sentencing of hockey player Dany Heatley, who pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in the death of an Atlanta Thrashers teammate.
In 2003, Barnes dismissed murder charges against prominent Atlanta nursery owner Wayne Carr, who served three years of a life sentence for allegedly setting fire to his home 10 years earlier, in which his wife, Patricia, died of smoke inhalation.
Barnes ruled that Carr’s right to a speedy trial was violated because the case had languished for several years after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his 1994 conviction, citing trial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.