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HomeNewsArchivesOn Island Profile: Judge Thomas K. Moore

On Island Profile: Judge Thomas K. Moore

March 26, 2007 — The robes have been replaced by Bermuda shorts, a T-shirt bearing a sailing-team logo and a jaunty yellow baseball cap, but the casual attire can't hide the fact that it's still Judge Thomas K. Moore.
As at home at Cowpet Bay as he was for his 12 years at the District Court, Moore sat down last week to talk of many things — his retirement (not his idea), his love of the sea and his love of his home, the Virgin Islands.
Though we sit relaxed at the beach, Moore is still every inch the judge. "I walk about an hour most mornings," he says, "up the hill from our condo and down to the beach." He served as St. Thomas Yacht Club's commodore last year, and he was looking forward to the weekend and his time on the committee boat for the Rolex regatta. He loves diving and owns a 23-foot power boat, Aquavit II.
But enough of his hobbies — Moore gets to his abiding passion right away: attaining lifetime tenure for federal judges, as the 50 states and Puerto Rico enjoy and, as he notes, St. Croix son Alexander Hamilton set forth in The Federalist Paper, No.78.
Moore says his "proudest and most disappointing" experience has been a persistent battle with the federal government toward "removing the badge of second-class citizenship from the V.I."
A trim 69-year-old, Moore's blue eyes are as intense as when they gazed down from the bench. He is called "courageous" by many in the legal community, who admire his tenacity. His rulings have influenced daily life in the Virgin Islands — notably the reform of V.I. property-tax assessments and the repair of St. Croix's rotting sewer system. That matter dragged on for years, finally ending in the termination of a corrupt contract and the criminal conviction of its principals.
Right after being sworn in in August 1992, Moore wrote the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C., asking why Puerto Rico had the guarantees of judicial independence set out in the constitution but the Virgin Islands did not. One of his initial findings amazed him. The federal government wrote back that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, and had a big caseload. "But," Moore says, citing a comment that still sticks in his craw, "they said the V.I. never asked!"
"I convinced them that Puerto Rico is the same jurisdiction as the V. I., that commonwealth is not essential," he says."I formed an ad hoc committee of experienced V.I. lawyers in 1996, including Julio Brady, and set out on a campaign to get Article III (which guarantees lifetime tenure for all federal judges) for the V.I."
Moore has worked with Delegate Donna M. Christensen to draft a bill to establish the District Court of the V.I. as a court under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which she introduced in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Each time the bill died in Congress. Christensen now has the bill before a Democratic Congress, which she hopes will be more receptive.
From Idaho to the Islands
Changing gears, Moore recounts his pre-judicial life. Born and raised in Idaho, the judge is no stranger to island life. He finished his last years of high school in the Philippines, where he first developed a lifelong enthusiasm for diving.
He completed his advanced education in the States, earning his undergraduate degree from Harvard college in 1961 and his graduate degree from Georgetown University Law School in 1967, around the time he met Judith Gilman on a blind date. They have been married 41 years and have two sons. Jonathan lives on St. Thomas and has his own business, while David is completing post-doctoral work in physical chemistry and quantum mechanics at the University of California at Berkeley. David, "like me, is an avid diver," Moore says.
Moore worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Virginia for several years, prosecuting white-collar fraud cases. After a visit to St. Croix in 1976, Moore knew he wanted to make the move to the territory. He says he "conned" U.S. Attorney Julio Brady into hiring him about a month after his initial visit.
"We moved from a lovely home in Virginia," Moore says. "But I was having problems with my immune system, which cleared up almost immediately. The air is so much cleaner here, even with the Sahara dust and the volcanic ash. We arrived here with our two very young sons and 14 boxes."
Moore worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney for two and a half years before hanging up his shingle in private practice, then he moved to form a partnership with Paul Hoffman. From there Moore went on to a partnership in the law firm of Grunert, Stout and Moore until he assumed the bench in 1992. Judy, meanwhile, taught at Antilles School for 22 years.
Over and above all else, Moore is a Virgin Islander, and he has the bruises to prove it. His own case illustrates the perils of limited terms. Under that system, politics will always have the upper hand, states a 2003 story in the Source. (See "Judging Tom: Politics Bares Its Teeth.")
Fear of retribution has never entered into Moore's actions, and, some say, may have cost him his reappointment to the bench. "I really don't know the reason," Moore says.
Politics and Sewage
Many of the bruises Moore incurred along the way came from his years-long battle for effective management of St. Croix's sewer system, for which he has held the government in contempt since 2001. The final straw came in 2003, when the Turnbull administration issued a contract to a company without resources or employees.
In a scathing 60-page opinion in March 2003, Moore excoriated then-Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for placing politics above both the law and the public interest in the administration's repeated failures to deal with the disastrous state of St. Croix's sewage system.
"A distinct odor emanates from the construction contract the governor of the Virgin Islands, Charles Wesley Turnbull, signed with Global Resources Management Inc. on Dec. 20, 2002, for emergency sewer repairs, and it is not the smell of sewage from the decrepit and failed St. Croix sewer system," Moore wrote. "It is the reek of politics and political influence, and quite possibly of political corruption." (See "Judge Finds 'Reek' of Politics in Sewer Contract." ) Two of the principals in the case have since been tried and found guilty.
In February 2003, Moore chastised V.I. government officials for failing to follow his orders to fix the territory's system of assessing property taxes, and accused the government of trying to usurp his ban on issuing any more property-tax bills until an ongoing legal challenge was resolved. The government twice appealed the decision. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Moore's opinion.
Attorney David Nissman, who prosecuted the GRM case, shared some reflections on his long association with Moore. Though noting with a laugh what he calls "Moore's sometimes irascible personality," Nissman says Moore is "one of the hardest-working public servants I ever met, and a great writer."
Moore's love for the territory was praised by Brady in a recent court ceremony unveiling a portrait of the judge, which will hang in the District Courtroom across from that of the eminent V.I. District Court Judge Almeric Christian.
Moore was humbled by the experience, but laughed as he recalled the memory: "Attorneys Eric Moore, Treston Moore and myself were standing before him when he said he 'didn't know what he would do with three Moores.'"
At the ceremony before a courtroom filled with the territory's legal elite, Brady said, "It was because of me that the judge came here — he was young and intellectual, much to my pleasure. When the opening arose, Tom applied. I told him that he would do criminal ca
ses: robbery, rape, murder. He was undaunted. He told me something, 'We love it here.' He became a Virgin Islander — he chose to be one of us."
Magistrate Geoffrey Barnard, who has worked alongside Moore for years, also had words: "Judge Moore is a serious man, a prolific writer. His opinions take up three yards of space. I was looking for something in this vast body of work, and I finally found the volume I was looking for: Humorous Anecdotes of Judge Thomas K. Moore." With a smile, Barnard held up a blank volume, getting a huge laugh.
Perhaps Shansi Miller, the artist who brought him to astonishing life in her portrait, sums Moore up best. "He is everything you hope a judge would be," she says. "Tolerant, kind, frighteningly smart."
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March 26, 2007 -- The robes have been replaced by Bermuda shorts, a T-shirt bearing a sailing-team logo and a jaunty yellow baseball cap, but the casual attire can't hide the fact that it's still Judge Thomas K. Moore.
As at home at Cowpet Bay as he was for his 12 years at the District Court, Moore sat down last week to talk of many things -- his retirement (not his idea), his love of the sea and his love of his home, the Virgin Islands.
Though we sit relaxed at the beach, Moore is still every inch the judge. "I walk about an hour most mornings," he says, "up the hill from our condo and down to the beach." He served as St. Thomas Yacht Club's commodore last year, and he was looking forward to the weekend and his time on the committee boat for the Rolex regatta. He loves diving and owns a 23-foot power boat, Aquavit II.
But enough of his hobbies -- Moore gets to his abiding passion right away: attaining lifetime tenure for federal judges, as the 50 states and Puerto Rico enjoy and, as he notes, St. Croix son Alexander Hamilton set forth in The Federalist Paper, No.78.
Moore says his "proudest and most disappointing" experience has been a persistent battle with the federal government toward "removing the badge of second-class citizenship from the V.I."
A trim 69-year-old, Moore's blue eyes are as intense as when they gazed down from the bench. He is called "courageous" by many in the legal community, who admire his tenacity. His rulings have influenced daily life in the Virgin Islands -- notably the reform of V.I. property-tax assessments and the repair of St. Croix's rotting sewer system. That matter dragged on for years, finally ending in the termination of a corrupt contract and the criminal conviction of its principals.
Right after being sworn in in August 1992, Moore wrote the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C., asking why Puerto Rico had the guarantees of judicial independence set out in the constitution but the Virgin Islands did not. One of his initial findings amazed him. The federal government wrote back that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, and had a big caseload. "But," Moore says, citing a comment that still sticks in his craw, "they said the V.I. never asked!"
"I convinced them that Puerto Rico is the same jurisdiction as the V. I., that commonwealth is not essential," he says."I formed an ad hoc committee of experienced V.I. lawyers in 1996, including Julio Brady, and set out on a campaign to get Article III (which guarantees lifetime tenure for all federal judges) for the V.I."
Moore has worked with Delegate Donna M. Christensen to draft a bill to establish the District Court of the V.I. as a court under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which she introduced in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Each time the bill died in Congress. Christensen now has the bill before a Democratic Congress, which she hopes will be more receptive.
From Idaho to the Islands
Changing gears, Moore recounts his pre-judicial life. Born and raised in Idaho, the judge is no stranger to island life. He finished his last years of high school in the Philippines, where he first developed a lifelong enthusiasm for diving.
He completed his advanced education in the States, earning his undergraduate degree from Harvard college in 1961 and his graduate degree from Georgetown University Law School in 1967, around the time he met Judith Gilman on a blind date. They have been married 41 years and have two sons. Jonathan lives on St. Thomas and has his own business, while David is completing post-doctoral work in physical chemistry and quantum mechanics at the University of California at Berkeley. David, "like me, is an avid diver," Moore says.
Moore worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Virginia for several years, prosecuting white-collar fraud cases. After a visit to St. Croix in 1976, Moore knew he wanted to make the move to the territory. He says he "conned" U.S. Attorney Julio Brady into hiring him about a month after his initial visit.
"We moved from a lovely home in Virginia," Moore says. "But I was having problems with my immune system, which cleared up almost immediately. The air is so much cleaner here, even with the Sahara dust and the volcanic ash. We arrived here with our two very young sons and 14 boxes."
Moore worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney for two and a half years before hanging up his shingle in private practice, then he moved to form a partnership with Paul Hoffman. From there Moore went on to a partnership in the law firm of Grunert, Stout and Moore until he assumed the bench in 1992. Judy, meanwhile, taught at Antilles School for 22 years.
Over and above all else, Moore is a Virgin Islander, and he has the bruises to prove it. His own case illustrates the perils of limited terms. Under that system, politics will always have the upper hand, states a 2003 story in the Source. (See "Judging Tom: Politics Bares Its Teeth.")
Fear of retribution has never entered into Moore's actions, and, some say, may have cost him his reappointment to the bench. "I really don't know the reason," Moore says.
Politics and Sewage
Many of the bruises Moore incurred along the way came from his years-long battle for effective management of St. Croix's sewer system, for which he has held the government in contempt since 2001. The final straw came in 2003, when the Turnbull administration issued a contract to a company without resources or employees.
In a scathing 60-page opinion in March 2003, Moore excoriated then-Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for placing politics above both the law and the public interest in the administration's repeated failures to deal with the disastrous state of St. Croix's sewage system.
"A distinct odor emanates from the construction contract the governor of the Virgin Islands, Charles Wesley Turnbull, signed with Global Resources Management Inc. on Dec. 20, 2002, for emergency sewer repairs, and it is not the smell of sewage from the decrepit and failed St. Croix sewer system," Moore wrote. "It is the reek of politics and political influence, and quite possibly of political corruption." (See "Judge Finds 'Reek' of Politics in Sewer Contract." ) Two of the principals in the case have since been tried and found guilty.
In February 2003, Moore chastised V.I. government officials for failing to follow his orders to fix the territory's system of assessing property taxes, and accused the government of trying to usurp his ban on issuing any more property-tax bills until an ongoing legal challenge was resolved. The government twice appealed the decision. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Moore's opinion.
Attorney David Nissman, who prosecuted the GRM case, shared some reflections on his long association with Moore. Though noting with a laugh what he calls "Moore's sometimes irascible personality," Nissman says Moore is "one of the hardest-working public servants I ever met, and a great writer."
Moore's love for the territory was praised by Brady in a recent court ceremony unveiling a portrait of the judge, which will hang in the District Courtroom across from that of the eminent V.I. District Court Judge Almeric Christian.
Moore was humbled by the experience, but laughed as he recalled the memory: "Attorneys Eric Moore, Treston Moore and myself were standing before him when he said he 'didn't know what he would do with three Moores.'"
At the ceremony before a courtroom filled with the territory's legal elite, Brady said, "It was because of me that the judge came here -- he was young and intellectual, much to my pleasure. When the opening arose, Tom applied. I told him that he would do criminal ca ses: robbery, rape, murder. He was undaunted. He told me something, 'We love it here.' He became a Virgin Islander -- he chose to be one of us."
Magistrate Geoffrey Barnard, who has worked alongside Moore for years, also had words: "Judge Moore is a serious man, a prolific writer. His opinions take up three yards of space. I was looking for something in this vast body of work, and I finally found the volume I was looking for: Humorous Anecdotes of Judge Thomas K. Moore." With a smile, Barnard held up a blank volume, getting a huge laugh.
Perhaps Shansi Miller, the artist who brought him to astonishing life in her portrait, sums Moore up best. "He is everything you hope a judge would be," she says. "Tolerant, kind, frighteningly smart."
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.