Nov. 21, 2002 Judge Ishmael Meyers, one of the Virgin Islands' most distinguished and respected judges known as an integral core of the territory's judicial system is stepping down from the Territorial Court bench after a career spanning slightly more than 20 years.
Though his bench is still warm, his loss is being keenly felt in and out of the legal community. "My comments?" asked Territorial Court Judge Brenda Hollar, "Where do you start, with adulation? He is just a wonderful person, a wonderful person to work with and a wonderful Christian. There is a definite void in the court with his retirement."
Hollar has worked with Meyers for 17 years, first as an attorney and in her present capacity for the past eight years. "He is so well loved," she said. "Even the defendants really don't feel so bad; they know that justice has been done when Judge Meyers is on the case. He certainly tempers justice with some degree of mercy, and he understands all the ramifications especially in Family Court and criminal matters. We have had some real rough cases with our expanded jurisdiction."
Meyers is known to his colleagues for his judicial demeanor, abundant skill, fundamental fairness and dedication to his profession. Though all admit Meyers can be a tough judge, what comes through in listening to their comments is that his toughness has a compassionate underbelly.
V. I. Territorial Presiding Judge Maria Cabret said Thursday that Meyers has agreed to stay on as senior sitting judge until February 2003. "We will miss him dearly," she said. "I really can't imagine Territorial Court without Judge Meyers. He has served with such devotion and dedication that it will be difficult to imagine court without him."
Cabret said she and Meyers have worked together for 15 year, she on St. Croix and he on St. Thomas. "He is not only extremely well liked, but very well respected. He has a perfect judicial demeanor. It will be a big loss to the court; he is so devoted."
Cabret said she hopes the governor will nominate someone "devoted to the practice of family law. We need someone right now," she said. Meyers has spent many years in Family Court.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has not yet made an announcement about Meyers' replacement. He had asked Meyers to stay on until after the election. Meyer's official last day was Nov. 15, and a retirement luncheon by the Territorial Court is being held for him Friday at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Resort.
Speculation is rife about the governor's choice to replace Meyers. Attorney General Iver Stridiron has been widely mentioned, but the attorney general said Wednesday that he had not been approached by the governor, nor has he approached the governor. Stridiron said there is "no credence" to the rumors. He told a reporter, "You may say, 'quite frankly, I like what I do.'"
Tom Bolt, St. Thomas Bar Association president, said earlier in the week: "Our board of governors has just met, and we are anxiously awaiting the governor's nomination to refer to our judiciary committee for review and comment." Bolt would not speculate about who would be nominated.
He did speculate that the governor might well want to wait until the 25th Legislature is sworn in to send down a nominee, rather than referring the matter to a lame duck session. Though Government House didn't return calls, it is deemed likely by some of Meyers' colleagues that the governor would probably await the 25th Legislature to send down his choice for the job.
Meyers himself, caught off guard Thursday afternoon, said, "I have a lot of good memories I can't be specific with no warning, but especially in Family Court. It can be emotionally draining, but some of my fondest memories are of the juveniles, the custody cases. It's always rewarding when they come back and stop and talk to me and let me know what they are doing." Echoing Judge Hollar's words, Meyers said, "Even some of the defendants who I've sent to jail will come and talk to me."
Meyers said he has no immediate plans but will do some mediation work at his "leisure." "The only other thing I want to say is it has been my pleasure to serve the people of the V. I., as a prosecutor and, lastly, as a judge." He confirmed his sitting judge status, adding, for the court and for the people whose lives he has affected, "I'll be there if they need me to help."
When told his ears must be burning from all the comments one reporter had heard during the day, he was unfazed. "My ears burn all the time," he said.
Attorney Treston E. Moore is one person Meyers has helped. "When I first came down to the islands in 1974, he helped me when I set up public defender program on St. Croix," Moore said. "Ishmael was a U.S. attorney at that time on St. Thomas."
"I went away for 10 years to teach law at Howard University, and when I came back he was on the bench. He was always such a professional, hard but fair," Moore said. "He was immensely fair and thorough, a wonderful judicial temperament. I used to tell him he was my favorite judge and he was always punishing me for that my clients took a beating."
Moore said he noticed a new demeanor in Meyers in the early 90s as gun violence in young people escalated. "You could see how troubled he was by this trend with so many youngsters killing each other."
"The court is losing a true judicial professional," Moore said. "He is a teacher of judges, and everybody loves him. He would take first-time judges and become their mentor, try to get them on track. And they have all excelled."
Meyers is a native St. Thomian, a 1956 graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Morgan State University, and his master's degree in business administration from American University, which he attended on a John Hay Whitney Foundation fellowship.
Meyers returned to St. Thomas where he became assistant and then acting commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Renewal, but the field of law was on his mind. After more than four years at his government post, he left in 1969 to attend the National law Center at George Washington University where he earned his law degree in 1972.
Meyers first worked in the local attorney general's office upon his return to the islands, but he soon was asked to work in the U. S. Attorney's office where he became assistant U. S. attorney in 1973. In 1978 President Jimmy Carter appointed him U.S. attorney for the V.I., a position he held until Governor Juan Luis appointed him to the Territorial Court bench in 1982.
He was renominated for two more six-year terms by the late Gov. Alexander Farrelly, and to his current term by Turnbull in 2000.
Meyers' biography reads like an honor roll of achievement, and it is. He is a member of the V.I. Bar Association, District of Columbia Bar Association, American Bar Association, National Bar Association and the American Trial Judges Association. He is also a graduate of the National Judicial College and the American Academy of Judicial Education.
His honors came early on with a 1961 and 1962 listing in "Who's Who among Students in American Colleges and Universities, continuing throughout his career, including a special achievement award for Special Accomplishments of leadership and service as a jurist in the V.I.
Meyers is married to the former Gwendolyn L. Pate. They have three children, Ishmael Jr., Micheline and Michael.
In the words of long-time colleague Verne A. Hodge, chief judge emeritus: "Judge Meyers has maintained his respect for law and fundamental fairness. He is especially respected for his outstanding judicial demeanor, which is the model for other judges to follow."
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