Judge John Reynolds died on February 13, 2006. He was 86 years old. Judge Reynolds graduated from his much beloved Providence College in 1941, served as a Lieutenant in the Navy in World War Two and then earned a law degree from Georgetown. He returned to New Haven, was the majority leader of the New Haven Board of Aldermen, and practiced law until he was appointed first to the Circuit Court and then the Superior Court.
For more than forty years John Reynolds was our finest judge. He personified all the best qualities we look for in those to whom the powers of judgeship are given. I know of a lawyer who once said, "Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle". Those were not John Reynolds' words, but that was how he lived.
I have three stories about John Reynolds. The first is a memory of old GA 8, on the second floor of the West Haven City Hall. John Reynolds presided there in its makeshift courtroom behind an elevated pinewood bench overlooking rows of upholstered movie-theater seats many of which were occupied by members of the legion of the unjustly accused who had been arrested in towns running from West Haven east to Madison. You enter the Courtroom from the rear and approach the bar, briefcase in hand, and without fail John Reynolds looks up and says, "Ah. Mr. Dow has arrived from the County Seat." John Reynolds knew how to make a lawyer look good in front of his clients.
The second story involves what might be a violation of an oath of secrecy. After all, the proceedings of the Judicial Selection Commission are confidential. I willingly take the risk. Candidates for judgeship are often asked to name judges whom they would emulate should they be approved and later anointed. During the five years I served on that Commission virtually every candidate from the New Haven Judicial District named John Reynolds as the judge they would try to emulate. True story.
The third story involves a conversation I had with a former prosecutor now a judge. I ask about the transition from criminal to civil. He says, yes, it is an adjustment. Doable, but an adjustment nonetheless. He has run into a number of tough calls and refers to a ruling he has to make on a summary judgment motion in a very close case. He's wrestling with his decision and tells me, "I remember what Judge Reynolds says, 'They build these courtrooms so people can try their cases in them, not get thrown out of them.'"
When John Reynolds died we all lost something. As lawyers we lost John Reynolds a number of years ago when he became a trial referee. We saw much less of him. Those who have lost the most, though, are Johnny Reynolds' fellow judges. They have lost a living reminder of the best that a judge can be.