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Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Memorial Ceremony for Former D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Eugene Hamilton


Washington, DC
United States

It is an honor to join with you all – and, especially, with the members of the Hamilton family – as we celebrate the extraordinary life and legacy of a remarkable leader, teacher, and mentor; a respected jurist; a devoted father; and a treasured friend.

I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to stand with Chief Judge Hamilton’s wife, Virginia, and with the children and grandchildren who brought him so much joy – as we pay tribute to a man who has meant a great deal to each one of us, to this community, and to this nation.

As I look around this atrium, it is clear – in his family members, friends, and former students; in those who – like me – had the good fortune to worked alongside and learn from him; and in the countless lives he touched over the years that he presided in this building – that, although he is no longer with us, Chief Judge Hamilton still has the power to bring people together.  And, although we gather today in a moment of sorrow, there’s no question that the people in this room are connected by far more than grief.  We are bound by our shared admiration, and deep affection, for a man whose kindness, intelligence, and fidelity – to his loved ones and to the law – has left an indelible mark on our lives, and on the justice system he served so well.

Since the day he began his distinguished legal career – as a Judge Advocate General Officer in the U.S. Army, Eugene Hamilton’s life was defined by his contributions to others.  After completing his military service, he joined our nation’s Department of Justice, where he worked throughout the 1960s as a trial attorney in the Civil Division – until, in 1970, he was appointed to the D.C. Superior Court. 

Two decades later – when I joined the Court and was sworn in as an Associate Judge – I had the great pleasure, and benefit, of getting to know Judge Hamilton.

Immediately, I was struck by his keen intellect and compassion – and I continue to be grateful that Judge Hamilton was willing to take me under his wing.  He was generous with both his time and expertise – and taught me how a courtroom ought to be run.  During his years on the bench, he had mastered the art of being firm – but fair.  He believed in the importance of second chances – but not third ones.  And he understood the power of a kind word, as well as a good joke.  In so many ways, his support was invaluable to me – and his advice continues to guide me today. 

Although I left the Court around the same time that Judge Hamilton began his tenure as Chief Judge, I had the great privilege of working with – or at least before – him during my service as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.  For me – and for so many members of the bench and bar who are here today – he didn't just set a fine example.  He set the standard.  He embodied professionalism, humility, and wisdom; and became known for his sound judgment, his commitment to innovation and achievement, and his willingness to tackle even the most difficult and complex legal questions.  Then – and now – he stands as a model of what it means to be a true advocate for, and defender of, justice.  

During his tenure, Chief Judge Hamilton established an “open community court” – a tradition that still continues today – and one that earned him a reputation as the “People’s Judge.”  Over his three decades on the bench, he championed more creative and cutting-edge juvenile justice initiatives than I have time to list – including a pilot program for nonviolent juvenile offenders; a program for addressing the negative effects that the adult criminal justice system can have on DC’s youth; and the Family Court Advisory Rules Committee, to help develop standards and practices for attorneys appointed to represent children and parents in neglect cases.

Chief Judge Hamilton understood that improving the circumstances and criminal justice outcomes for young people at risk and in need is a unique – and urgent – challenge.  But he showed us that solutions are possible.  Progress is possible.  And, over the course of his career, his dedication to protecting and empowering young people not only improved the lives of many who came into contact with this Court – it inspired policymakers, elected officials, attorneys, and this Attorney General to help make the improvements that our children need and deserve – a fight that is, and will continue to be, a top priority for today’s Justice Department.

Of course, Chief Judge Hamilton’s passion for working with young people extended far beyond the confines of his courtroom and his contributions to our legal system.  In addition to raising nine wonderful kids of their own – and spoiling 15 beloved grandkids – he and Virginia served as foster parents for more than 40 children from the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland.  Without a doubt, his true legacy will be measured in the future that they will help to create.

In the work of transforming our community and reaching out to those in need – I can think of few who have had as profound or enduring an impact as Eugene Hamilton.  In ways both large and small, he will be dearly missed.  But I am confident that – in this building, and in the lives of so many who knew him – his work will go on.  His passion will endure.  And his lifelong commitment – to justice, to the rule of law, and to the service of others – will continue to be our common cause for many years to come.

Updated August 18, 2015