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Parker, Barrington D.(1915–1993) - Judge, Pursues Career in Law, Runs a No-Nonsense Courtroom, Chronology, Parker’s Independent Rulings

district school columbia university

Barrington Daniels Parker Sr. was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Richard Nixon on December 19, 1969. He is probably best known for presiding over the case that found John Hinckley Jr. not guilty by reason of insanity of attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. After the acquittal, Parker ordered Hinckley committed to a mental hospital. This case was not the first and it would not be the last in which Parker’s judgment was questioned. Still, he was not one to be swayed by popular opinion, and he ran his courtroom the way he wanted and allowed no one to question that.

Parker was born on November 17, 1915, in Rosslyn, Virginia, the only child of George A. and Maude Daniels Parker. His father was a bricklayer and mailman, who later became a part-time preacher and lawyer. He also became a practicing attorney and teacher in both the fields of religion and law. In 1931, he was the founder and dean of the Robert H. Terrell School of Law, a night school for African American students. The school was named in honor of the first African American appointed justice of the peace and the first African American judge on the Municipal Court of the District of Columbia. The school closed in the 1950s. His mother worked in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and was a former school teacher.

Parker’s family moved to the District of Columbia when he was quite young, and he grew up at 24th and M streets, N.W. He received his early education in the District of Columbia. He graduated from Dunbar High School in 1932. He graduated from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in 1936, with an A.D. degree; the University of Pennsylvania in 1938, with an M.A. degree in economics; and the University of Chicago Law School in 1947, with a J.D.

In 1939, Parker married Marjorie Holloman, the daughter of a well-known minister, the Reverend J. L. S. Holloman, from North Carolina. The Holloman family moved to the District of Columbia when she was a child, and she graduated from Dunbar High School in 1932, where the two met. Marjorie Holloman Parker became a prominent D.C. educator and community leader. She served as chairman of the University of the District of Columbia Board of Trustees and was an appointed member of the old, pre-home rule D.C. city council. The couple became the parents of two sons, Jason H. Parker and Barrington D. Parker, Jr. and three grandchildren. Marjorie Holloman Parker died of heart disease on January 16, 2006 in Washington, D.C.

Pursues Career in Law

Before attending law school, Parker for a short period of time worked as a government economist and taught economics at Dillard University in New Orleans. He was greatly influenced by his father to pursue a career in law. In 1947, he was admitted to the District of Columbia bar. He served as adjunct professor at the Robert H. Terrell Law School and at the American University’s College of Law.

Upon passing the District of Columbia bar, Parker joined his father’s law firm as a practicing attorney where he remained until 1968. Parker participated in and presided over several significant cases in his career as a practicing attorney and sitting judge. Very early as a young practicing attorney, in association with another attorney, Julian Dugas, Parker was assigned to do the research for the team of Gorge A. Parker, George E.C. Hayes, James A. Cobb, and others who represented Paul Robeson in defeating a state department attempt to recall Robeson’s passport. In 1955, the team also assisted in the defense of W. E. B. Du Bois, one of the founders of the NAACP; the Peace Information Center; and several other defendants who were charged as agents of a foreign government. The charges were later dismissed upon the defendants’ motion for judgment of acquittal.

In 1969, Parker was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Richard M. Nixon. Until his appointment to the judgeship, he practiced in the law firm of Parker and Parker. Although he was known for his conservative views, Parker was deeply concerned with the challenges to affirmative action plans that were being mounted by the Reagan administration in his latter years on the bench. Parker viewed the Reagan administration attempts to turn back the clock on affirmative action with disdain.

Runs a No-Nonsense Courtroom

Parker’s impressive courtroom entry and his aggressive no-nonsense approach to courtroom procedures gained him a reputation as a crusty, highly independent and cantankerous judge. He made sure all knew who was in charge of his courtroom. Lawyers knew what he would and what he would not tolerate in his courtroom.

Despite Parker’s reputation for being strict, outside the courtroom he was considered to be a man of compassion. He was also considered to be a modest, independent man who made his share of unpopular rulings. He liked to explain his approach to the law by quoting from Micah 6: “And what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” Since he was the only child of a man who was both preacher and lawyer, combining the Scriptures and law books came naturally for this judge.

Physical disability also did not distract Parker. In 1975, Parker was crossing Connecticut Avenue, N.W. to buy a pack of cigarettes when he was struck by a car. As a result, his left leg was amputated; he learned to walk again with the aid of metal crutches. The only thing he gave up after the accident was smoking, and he continued to drive himself to work from his home in the district’s Forest Hills neighborhood.

Chronology

1915

Born in Rosslyn, Virginia on November 17

1939

Marries Marjorie Holloman

1947

Admitted to the D.C. bar and joins father’s law practice

1969

Appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Richard Nixon

1975

Struck by a car and has left leg amputated

1982

Presides over the John Hinckley Jr. trial; receives the Professional Achievement Award from the University of Chicago

1988

Chosen Judge of the Year by the National Conference of Black Lawyers

1990

Retires from the bench on February 9 for health reasons

1993

Dies in Washington, D.C. on June 2

Parker’s Independent Rulings

For twenty years as judge, Parker presided over many highly publicized criminal and civil cases, the most famous being the John W. Hinckley Jr. case. Hinckley was the presidential assailant found not guilty by reason of insanity. Hinckley Jr. was charged with attempting to kill President Ronald Reagan and the president’s press secretary, James Brady. Significantly, the Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Parker’s ruling that officials, who interrogated Hinckley after his arrest, violated his rights by continuing the interrogation after Hinckley indicated that he wanted an attorney present. The Appellate Court also affirmed Parker’s determination that prison guards who seized and read handwritten notes prepared by Hinckley for the benefit of his counsel violated his rights to privacy. After ruling on the case, Judge Parker ordered Hinckley’s indefinite commitment to a mental facility, meaning that Hinckley would be subject to periodic hearings to determine his fitness for release.

Other high profile cases included: Richard Helms, the former Central Intelligence Agency director accused of lying to a Senate committee; former representative Otto E. Passman, Democrat of Louisiana, charged with accepting a bribe from a South Korean businessman; and two Cuban exiles and a Chilean security agent accused of murdering Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean ambassador. Parker acknowledged that he had his share of reversals, and his biggest came in the Letelier case. An appeals court overturned the conviction of the two anti-Castro Cubans.

In a 1973 ruling, Parker barred the Nixon administration’s attempt to impose certain price controls. In another case, he ruled against a National Guard attempt to bar long-haired guardsmen from wearing short-cropped wigs when on duty; and in 1978, in connection with a merger between the National Student Marketing Company and an insurance holding company, he ruled that federal securities regulations did not require lawyers to disclose fraud by their clients.

In 1979, Parker blocked President Carter from issuing wage and price guidelines. In 1982, he ruled invalid a congressional amendment that barred Communists from job training programs; in 1979, Parker refused to accept a plea bargain worked out between the Justice Department and Westinghouse Electric Company in a foreign bribery case until attorneys revealed the name of the official—a deputy Egyptian prime minister—who received the bribes.

In 1987, in response to a class action suit filed by the Mental Health Law Project and the District of Columbia Public Defender Service on behalf of patients involuntarily committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Parker ruled that the patients were entitled to full and complete due process hearings to determine if they were being held unconstitutionally. The ruling affected about six hundred patients. Some of the patients had been committed for twenty-five or more years.

When he was not involved in the drama of the courtroom, Parker enjoyed reading historical fiction—James Michener was a favorite—and he listened to progressive jazz and classical music to relax.

Memberships, Civic Activities, and Awards

Parker held memberships in several organizations, including D.C. Human Relations Council (1963–67); American Bar Association; National Bar Association; Bar Association of D.C; D.C. Committee on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure; and local chapter of the ACLU. He co-chaired the United Negro College Fund. Parker served on the Board of Visitors of the Law School of the University of Chicago and the Pace University Law School.

In 1982, Parker received the Professional Achievement Award from the University of Chicago, given in recognition of those alumni whose efforts in their vocational fields have brought distinction to themselves, credit to the university, and enhanced the lives of their fellow citizens. Around 1988 Parker was chosen Judge of the Year by the National Conference of Black Lawyers.

Parker and his wife, Marjorie H. Parker, were among the first blacks listed in one of Washington’s most hidebound institutions, the Green Book, a social register for the elite. On February 9, 1990 Parker retired from the bench for health reasons. Barrington Parker died in Washington, D.C. on June 2, 1993.

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about 1 year ago

I am proud to read of my grandfather's Brother's accomplishments (My grandfather was William Alexander Parker II). My father, William Alexander Parker IV, told me about him, and his son when I was a child.

Now that I am doing a family tree on Ancestry.com, I have been able to confirm his plans in my children's ancestral heritage.

H.M.S.,
Dr. Prince Maurice Parker
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary
La Carlota, Córdoba
Spain