By Ed Brock
Two exhibit halls at the Atlanta International Convention Center barely contained the mourners who came to say goodbye to Judge Rowland Barnes.
On a stage between two giant video screens showing pictures of Barnes, some of the slain Fulton County Superior Court judge's best friends and colleagues took turns remembering him. It had been nearly a week since Barnes was killed doing his job "on the front lines of justice," as one speaker at Thursday's memorial service put it.
Brian Nichols is charged with shooting Barnes during an escape attempt last Friday at the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta. Police say 33-year-old Nichols overpowered Fulton County Deputy Cynthia Hall, took her gun, shot Barnes and court reporter Julie Brandau and then ran from the courthouse.
Nichols is also believed to have shot and killed Fulton County Sheriff's Sgt. Hoyt Teasley outside the courthouse and immigration agent David Wilhelm later Friday night.
Wilhelm's funeral was also held on Thursday. Barnes' body was cremated prior to Thursday's memorial service.
Several members of the Clayton County legal community were in the crowd and Clayton County Superior Court Judge Matt Simmons joined a host of other judges in black robes who sat together at the ceremony. His fellow Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield, herself the target of an alleged assassination plot in the past, sat in the audience.
"He was a great man and a sweet friend. I'm joining with others in mourning his loss," Benefield said.
Barnes, 64, lived in College Park with his wife Claudia Barnes. His daughter, 26-year-old Kiley Barnes, lives in Riverdale and works for a Stockbridge law firm.
Judge Barnes was remembered as an extremely fair man with a good sense of humor.
Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Anthony Volkodav's voice grew shaky as he remembered the judge with whom he served.
"The first time I met him in chambers he let me know that I wasn't just assigned to a courtroom, I was part of a family," Volkodav said.
A barbershop quartet broke the tension by belting out a tongue-in-cheek song about law and justice called "Old and Wise" to the tune of "Edelweiss." It was one Barnes once performed at an annual bar association fund-raiser while wearing a bathrobe, boxers and his favorite T-shirt that read "Real men don't need Viagra."
"Everybody thought they were Rowland's best friend," H. Clay Collins said in one eulogy. "There was nothing phony about Rowland, he was as real as they come. For a man who was such a great judge, he was the least judgmental person."
Stockbridge attorney Ricky Morris remembered Barnes as fair and open.
"He was always respectful and professional," Morris said.
Clayton County's newly appointed Public Defender Christine A. Van Dross worked as a public defender in Fulton County and had several cases before Barnes.
"He was just an even-tempered, fair judge," Van Dross said. "(The funeral speakers) said it all."