OPINION COLUMNS

Judge Fostel will be missed

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, June 17, 2017
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If you didn’t attend the memorial service for the late 271st District Judge John Fostel last week – and it may only be a few people based on the packed house – you missed a wonderful tribute.

Several of Fostel’s family, friends and former co-workers each spoke about their experiences with Fostel, who had served as the local district judge for 22 years.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

I won’t attempt to try to tell the stories here, since I couldn’t do them justice, but they could be described as ranging from funny to serious to heartwarming.

It was clear Fostel had touched many lives both in Wise County and beyond.

My experience with Fostel was much more limited than those who spoke, but I did get to see him fairly regularly in my courthouse beat.

In the years I spent covering various trials and hearings in his courtroom, I got the sense that he was a very fair judge.

There were times, especially after a defendant was given a probated sentence, the judge would talk to him or her directly, saying he hoped he didn’t see the defendant again in his courtroom. While it may have been part admonition, it was also delivered with such sincerity that you knew he was saying it because he truly hoped the defendant had learned from his mistake and wouldn’t wind up back in the same situation in the future.

Fostel also took the time at the conclusion of every jury trial to not only thank the jury for their service but to explain why it was so important that our justice system includes the right to have a person judged by a jury of their peers. I’ve probably heard him deliver nearly the same speech dozens of times to juries over the years, but it never came across as part of a memorized script but rather a sincere message.

Outside of the courtroom, Fostel had talked to me about how he was a newspaper reporter prior to beginning his law career. I always felt good knowing that the judge understood the job I was there to do, particularly when I’d ask him about potentially sensitive topics such as having a photographer just outside the courtroom on big cases.

I’ll miss seeing him around the courthouse, asking me how “the fourth estate” is doing. As someone who works under constant deadlines, I’ll miss how he always worked to make sure court proceeding started on time and didn’t drag on too long.

In fact, he’d probably want me to wrap up this column about now.

Go in peace, judge.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special projects manager.

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