After more than five years leading the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Royce Lamberth formally passed the gavel this morning to his successor as the court's chief judge, Judge Richard Roberts.
Lamberth, who had been chief judge since 2008, turned 70 today, meaning he was ineligible to continue serving as chief under federal law. Now a senior judge, Lamberth has said he's looking forward to having more time to travel and to sit as a visiting federal judge in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas.
Roberts said during this morning's passing-of-the-gavel ceremony that Lamberth "left some Texas-sized shoes for me to fill." After leading the courtroom in singing "Happy Birthday" to Lamberth, Roberts, a judge on the federal trial bench since 1998, said he was ready to get to work and was "very much looking forward to the challenges ahead."
Lamberth had two gifts for Roberts: a wooden plaque that read, "Illegitimi non carborundum," which loosely translated from Latin meant, "Don't let the bastards grind you down," and another sign that said "The buck stops here." Both signs had been passed down from previous chief judges of the D.C. federal trial court to successors.
The court community bid Lamberth farewell at a ceremony celebrating his tenure as chief judge yesterday afternoon. Emcee A.J. Kramer, the federal public defender for the District and a longtime friend of Lamberth, joked that Lamberth had already approved his remarks because he had the National Security Agency pull them in advance—a nod to Lamberth's past service as the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Lamberth's colleagues and staff poked fun at the judge's notorious use of colorful language and his love for his home state of Texas.
A group of the newest judges on the bench paid tribute to Lamberth in a skit in which they pretended to pester Lamberth, played by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon sporting a University of Texas hat, with requests to lighten their caseloads. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, wearing a cowboy hat with the Texas state flag, belted out a parody song she wrote for Lamberth to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way."
"No bull, could get past me, I did it my way," she sang.
On a more serious note, the former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Senior Judge David Sentelle, praised Lamberth's commitment to taking on a heavy caseload after becoming chief, saying that "he demonstrated an understanding that justice delayed is justice denied."
Lamberth said he was grateful for the support he'd received since his nomination to the bench in 1987. He provoked a laugh from U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. when he ended his remarks by joking that now that he was back in the rotation for cases, he might even land a big case—the mayor’s. The remark was a not-too-subtle reference to Machen's ongoing investigation into Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign.
Lamberth and a number of other judges on the local bench have handled a series of recent cases stemming from the government’s D.C. corruption probe. Gray, who hasn’t been charged with any crime, wasn’t in the audience yesterday when Lamberth made his joke.
Above, from left, Judge Royce Lamberth passes down a plaque to his successor as chief judge, Judge Richard Roberts. National Law Journal photo by Jay Mallin.
Judge Richard Roberts sings "Happy Birthday" to Judge Royce Lamberth (seated). National Law Journal photo by Jay Mallin.
D.C. Circuit Senior Judge David Sentelle. National Law Journal photo by Zoe Tillman.
The newest judges of the D.C. federal court bench, with Judge Richard Leon (center), perform a skit in tribute to Lamberth. National Lat Journal photo by Zoe Tillman.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson sings a parody of Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way." National Law Journal photo by Zoe Tillman.
A slideshow featured photos of a young Judge Royce Lamberth. National Law Journal photo by Zoe Tillman.