On Friday, March 17, 2017, Anna Blackburne-Rigsby was sworn in as the 11th Chief Judge of the DC Court of Appeals. Surrounded by her family, including her mother, a retired New York judge, and her husband Robert Rigsby, a DC Superior Court judge, as well as colleagues on both DC Courts and Justice Sotomayor from the US Supreme Court, Judge Blackburne-Rigsby took the oath of office in the Historic Courthouse’s Ceremonial Courtroom.
The event began with a presentation of colors by the Dunbar High School JROTC Color Guard; the pledge of allegiance, led by the Girl Scout Troop from Shiloh Baptist Church; and then the national anthem, by Mrs. Denize Shy, Judicial Administrative Assistant to Judge Rigsby.
Outgoing Chief Judge Eric T. Washington then greeted everyone and gave welcoming remarks. He dispensed with reading Judge Blackburne-Rigsby’s bio and told the story of their friendship and common career paths, both starting with the same DC law firm and eventually moving – as intended – to public service.
Mayor Muriel Bowser then gave greetings. She began by acknowledging the 12 years of service that Chief Judge Eric Washington had provided the DC Courts; which produced a long round of applause. The mayor then said she was pleased to be there with representatives from all three branches of the DC government, and was speaking on behalf of the 680,000 people who call DC home. She spoke of how Judge Blackburne-Rigsby, who she’d gotten to know when she represented the Rigsbys while serving as the Ward 4 councilmember, had sworn her in as councilmember. And, appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day, she said that, as a result, she’d always felt that the judge was her "lucky charm."
Dr. Kathryn Woodbury Zeno, a college classmate of the Judge’s, spoke next. She told how she met Anna Blackburne early-on at Duke, another African American kid from NYC, and knew right away that they’d be friends. All those years ago, Judge Blackburne-Rigsby was "intelligent, gracious, caring and inspirational."
DC Access to Justice Commission chair Peter Edelman spoke next, calling the day a 'wonderful day for our city.' He spoke of the profound needs of average working people across DC and their need for legal representation. He said he was confident that as Chief, Judge Blackburne-Rigsby would lead us on the issue, saying she was already a leader. He closed with "We will keep on…and you will keep us keeping on."
Next the judge's pastor spoke, Rev. Wallace Charles Smith, D.Min. He spoke of her many good traits, including timeliness for church "other than those times that Robert [Judge Rigsby] comes with her!" After that laugh, he got serious, telling the audience "The Anna you see is the same as the person I see on Sundays." He described her as courageous and dignified.
Lastly, a cousin, Dr. Richard Jones spoke for the family. He said that March 17 was an appropriate date: during women's history month and right after Black History Month. He said that their family and their ancestors would be honoring and celebrating. "We give you praise for your remarkable achievement. Our children’s children will have something to share during these months." He closed with lyrics from Lift Every Voice and Sing: "Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us…"
At the conclusion of the remarks, DC Judicial Nomination Commission Chair, US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan presented the official commission and then Chief Judge Eric T. Washington performed his last act as chief judge: he administered the oath of office to Judge Blackburne-Rigsby as her husband held the Bible. The judge’s son then helped her on with her robe, the first time as chief judge.
Judge Washington then escorted Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby to her rightful place on the bench (the center seat) and she made brief remarks. She started by honoring former Chief Judge Washington, the longest serving DC Court of appeals chief judge. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby then thanked everyone who was there, especially the officials who took time out of their busy schedule, the speakers who gave remarks, her husband of 25 years, Judge Robert Rigsby, saying he was the most noble and courageous man she knows, and her son, saying "you and your generation will be ready to take on the mantle of leadership very soon!" She thanked her parents for the values they taught her sisters and herself: the importance of faith, service, education, and hard work in service to others. The Chief Judge said that her sisters and her family members were her rock and her support. She then thanked her staff, including her long-time judicial administrative assistant, LaVerne Atiba. And acknowledge those criminal justice partners in attendance: US Attorney Channing Phillips, DC Attorney General Karl Racine, and Public Defender Service Director Avis Buchanan.
The new Chief Judge then directed her remarks to the audience, saying that it was essential to remember that while each case is one of hundreds or even thousands we deal with, to the parties, it’s their one case, it's their world. She said that for those who work at the courts, our treatment of parties is what the court is to them, and we need to keep that at the forefront of our minds. She closed with "The role of our three branches of government is more important than ever. The judicial branch is the foundation, not subject to whim, but yet we cannot be so set in stone as to never change."