Stephen Barton recalled one of his first trials as a defense attorney. He spotted his father, Superior Court Judge Robert A. Barton, in the rear of the courtroom. As he interrogated a witness, a court clerk handed him a note. He paused to read it: “Your mother’s birthday is Tuesday. Be sure to get her a card.”
The office suite of Middlesex District Atty. Marian T. Ryan last Thursday resounded with recollections reflecting the talents, passions, wisdom, and humor of Judge Barton, who died in May shortly before his 92nd birthday. Barton was a Bedford resident for more than a half-century.
Ryan called the event, “Celebrating the Life and Work of the Honorable Robert A. Barton,” and a highlight was the unveiling of a portrait that will be displayed in the district attorney’s headquarters.
She recounted that Barton wanted a 90th birthday event attended by all the people he loved and respected. But the anniversary fell in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020, “so here we are, to try to honor him.”
Most speakers testified to Barton’s love for the town. State Rep. Kenneth Gordon pointed out that he was a selectman and town moderator for several years. That had to end when he was appointed to the bench by Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1978.
“Being a judge was what he always wanted to do,” his son said. Barton stepped down when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Patrick Cook, Vice President of Administration at Middlesex Community College, pointed out that as selectmen chair, Barton cut the ribbon to formally open the first Bedford campus in 1970. Cook, who was accompanied by MCC President Philip Sisson, said that later the judge served on the MCC Board of Trustees for 10 years.
Almost every speaker stressed the profound love Barton had for his wife Norma, an interior designer, who died in 2015. He remained in his home on Page Road for the remainder of his life because he said her touch was apparent in every room.
Attendees included several of the judge’s monthly Bedford lunch companions of recent years. There was a law enforcement group meeting at Red Heat – former Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno, as well as Cook, who is a former spokesman for the Lowell Police Department. Ed Davis, former Lowell police superintendent and Boston police commissioner, sent greetings.
Then there was a legislative group that gathered at The Great Wall, including Gordon, State Rep. David Linsky of Natick, as well as Ryan from time to time.
“He always has command of the courtroom,” asserted Linsky, who said he tried more than 20 cases before Judge Barton. “I grew to love and respect the good judge more than you can imagine.” He said Barton was “incredibly proud of his children, grandchildren, the Marines, and his town. And he loved being a baseball catcher more than anything.”
“All the people in his life were so important to him,” Gordon said, noting that when he encountered the judge as a young lawyer, his advice was to respect everyone in the legal system.
The district attorney shared some of her stories. On her first day as a prosecutor in Barton’s court, everyone was ushered into the judge’s lobby, where to her amazement, there was much congratulating and singing. “I didn’t know it was the Marine Corps’ birthday.”
The Marines exemplified that “his whole life was really about commitment,” Ryan continued. “Once he was on your side, he was on your side forever. And he didn’t mind saying so.”
She said his career on the Superior Court bench covered 22 years and more than 150 trials, “many of which were covered by Court TV.” Indeed, Barton’s courtroom in Cambridge became known as Studio 12B. “He was committed to mentoring young lawyers – he cared deeply about the profession,” the district attorney said. “It was truly a lifetime of public service.”
Retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Judith Cowin, a former assistant district attorney, said that as a member of the highest court, she helped review first-degree murder convictions. She said transcripts from Barton’s courtroom “exemplified how a criminal trial should proceed.”
Stephen Barton was joined by his wife Paula and their daughters Jacqueline and Addison who unveiled the portrait. Also present were Barton’s son Daniel and his wife Alisa.
Other speakers included Col. Mark Delaney, retired commander of the Massachusetts State Police. Several other retired judges were in attendance, along with former state Atty. Gen. and Middlesex District Atty. Thomas F. Reilly and other staff members.