Summer 2008 - #3. Yankee Justice: The Lighter Side of the Law.

Author:by Virginia C. Downs

Vermont Bar Journal


Summer 2008 - #3.

Yankee Justice: The Lighter Side of the Law

The Vermont Bar Journal #174, Volume 34, No. 2 SUMMER 2008


Chief Justice Albert W. Barney "We have had terms in which one judge on our court has had more cases than the whole Supreme Court had for years" The following profile of Chief Justice Albert W. Barney is the twenty-fifth in a series published in the Journal under the general title of "Yankee Justice." The profiles are based on interviews of members of the bench and bar conducted by oral historian and free-lance writer Virginia Downs in 1978 and 1979. The project was proposed at a meeting of an ad hoc committee of the Vermont bench and bar in April of 1978 to tie in with planned bicentennial celebrations of the state's legal beginnings in 1779. It was in that year that Stephen Bradley and Noah Smith were sworn in as Vermont's first official lawyers. The profiles include biographical material and anecdotes from the interviewees' legal activities.


"It was my father who got me into the law. I was terribly interested in chemical engineering because I had a magnificent teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy. It was during the Depression in the 1930's when I was deciding what to do after high school. My father said, `Look, those corporations hire the newest graduates every year to keep up and you'd be pushed right down. What you want is a permanent profession that you can stay with.' He wanted me to be a doctor, but I didn't want to be.

"I was valedictorian of my class at the Academy, which automatically meant you had a free year's tuition at the University of Vermont. What happened was that I was also awarded a full four-year scholarship to Tufts. I was entertained on campus for a week, introduced to things like fraternities. When I got back Joe Fairbanks, then the chair of the board of trustees at the Academy, came to my house and said, `You ought to go to Yale.' I said I didn't think I could afford it, to which he answered that he thought I could get a scholarship `and I want you to apply.' So at his request I did apply and got a one-year scholarship from a nice Pennsylvania lady. I was told if I lost my scholarship I could get a loan and pay it back. I kept the scholarship for four years, except for one when I got involved in trying to start a new magazine at the college entitled Vif. We got it started but it took so much time that my average dropped. If you fell below a B, you had to get a loan and pay it back when you got out of college.

"I took a course in constitutional law at Yale and decided that's what I wanted to follow. When I graduated from Yale, I got a scholarship award which paid the first year's tuition at Harvard. Practically the day after I graduated I enrolled at Harvard because they had a summer term. They guaranteed that if they accepted you, and if you went into the service, they'd take you back. I thought, `That's a good deal,' and in '42 took them up on it. The scholarship paid my first term tuition. I was called into the service before the end of the term, so I didn't have to pay any more money because it was guaranteed that I could return. The G.I. Bill paid my way when I came back. I didn't have any money, and neither did my father with a small automobile agency.

"What was interesting was that my father, who had been a motor machinist mate in World War I, was just fifty years old in 1942, still young enough to enlist in World War II. He had taken flying lessons at the St. Johnsbury Airport. When he went back to reenlist they saw that he was a licensed pilot, so they made him an aviation machinist mate. He said the first thing they were going to do was send him out on the Atlantic on a carrier, but decided he was a little too old for that, so they sent him to Chicago. He was on the crew of the admiral whose job it was to oversee all the air flight schools in the continental U.S. My number came up after he shipped out, but our paths didn't cross.

"I was commissioned an ensign and sent to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I first met my wife-to-be, Helen...

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