TONY BEST: Judge’s love for Bim
“EVERYTHING IN BARBADOS was better.”
The words of Justice Anne Elizabeth Barnes, the Presiding Judge of Georgia’s Court of Appeals as she reflected on the life of her father George Richard Barnes, a Bajan who attended Harrison College but left his birthplace “many” decades ago to attend Emory University in Atlanta and ended up spending the rest of life there, while maintaining his emotional and cultural ties to the Caribbean country.
“My father often spoke about flying fish, life on the island, Harrison College, hot sauce and other things about Barbados,” said the judge. “He once talked about eating ten flying fish for breakfast. Everything in Barbados that he talked about was better” than elsewhere.
That in essence was a major part of the household environment in which the prominent jurist was raised in America’s Deep South.
Now in her fourth term as an elected judge on the appeals court, Barnes displayed several loves – her family connections in and out of America and Barbados; the laws of Georgia and the courts which administer and ultimately interpret them; her husband, Dr Tom Banks, a physics professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey; and a deep interest in Barbados.
“I love Barbados,” asserted the jurist who speaks proudly about the citizenship “by descent” which she acquired sometime ago and the numerous visits to the country over the years, including two memorable trips, one with her father in 1989, his first in more than 40 years, and the other when she held her wedding reception at Mango Bay resort in Holetown.
“I was last there in 2015 when my husband and I got married,” she said. “When I go to Barbados I see wonderful and well-educated people, a literate culture, and a beautiful country. My heart is in Barbados and I may retire there. I have cousins in Barbados.”
All of these upbeat assessments came from a person who was born and raised in Georgia, went to public schools in DeKalb County and later received a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University, graduating in 1979 magna cum laude. She earned a law degree from the University of Georgia in 1983 and a master’s in the judicial process from the University of Virginia in 2004.
After a stint of almost 20 years in private practice in Georgia, Barnes, 61, threw her legal hat into the judicial election process in 1998 and won a seat on the bench becoming the first woman to be elected in a state-wide judicial race without first being appointed a judge. When her first term ended in 2004, she was re-elected unopposed and again in 2010, garnering more votes across the state than any other candidate. She was returned to office in 2016.
“Georgia and Barbados are common law jurisdictions but our judicial systems are different,” she explained. “The court of appeals serves [as] a kind of lighthouse. We interpret the law and the court has jurisdiction in almost every area. We correct any legal errors made by trial judges.”
She described her role as one of “great responsibility because the court makes decisions that affect the lives of millions of people” across Georgia. The state has a population of about ten million people. Several hundred Barbadians live in Atlanta, Savannah and other key areas of Georgia.
“My place on the court is a sacred trust. My philosophy is that children are not the property of their parents,” she replied. “We must protect them at all times.”
Barnes has served on the board of directors and trustees of an array of civil and professional in an out of Georgia, receiving a long list of awards and citations, including the Barbados Association of Atlanta’s Trident Award for Law.
“She is a very outstanding judge,” said Evelyn Greaves, a former Cabinet minister in Barbados who is the editor-in-chief of a soon to be published biographical coffee table book on outstanding Barbadians in the US “Her profile is going to be included in that publication.”
Tony Best is the NATION’s North American Correspondent. Email: [email protected]