Wednesday, February 04, 2009

R.I.P.: John Paul Barnich (1945-2009)

When my friend John Paul Barnich was appointed a municipal court judge here in Houston, he told me that he intended to preside while wearing "a black robe and a simple strand of pearls -- nothing too flashy." I was, I admit, mildly surprised: After repeated exposure to the splendiferously campy decor of his Montrose home -- a place where I was privileged to share in many of the Thanksgiving feasts he so generously hosted over the years -- I figured that, at the very least, he'd want to wear a tiara while on the bench.

On the other hand, as Houston Chronicle writer Allan Turner notes, John found other ways of bringing his own unique touch to judicial proceedings:

“He was a round, jolly-looking fellow with long white hair and beard,” [state district judge Steven] Kirkland said. “Occasionally he would look at defendants from the bench and say, ‘Who do you think I am, Santa Claus?’ ” Defendants invariably would be taken aback because of the resemblance, Kirkland said

When questioned during a City Council hearing to confirm his appointment about how a gay judge would differ from a heterosexual judge, he responded that he would upgrade the courtroom’s sound system in order to play show tunes. On the occasion of his pet iguana’s fifth birthday, he gave the reptile a party featuring a mariachi band, said his longtime friend Jennifer Rantz.

John was a witty and warm-hearted man who, in addition to being a good friend, provided legal advice on more than one occasion to members of my, ahem, untidy family. To pay him the highest compliment I can pay anyone: He left this world a much better place than it would have been if he'd never been in it.

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