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Saturday, January 22, 2022


Chief Judge of the District Court of the Virgin Islands Almeric Leander Christian, who died on Wednesday at the age of 79, was a man of many talents.
He was a World War II Army officer, Columbia Law School graduate, U.S. Attorney of the Virgin Islands, federal judge, husband, father, son, a devoutly religious man and the epitome of justice.
During his years as chief judge, Christian went to church every day of the week. In his later years he took up golf, and hit a hole-in-one though legally blind.
His lasting legacy will be the philosophy he dispensed from the bench. Christiansted attorney Tom Alkon, who won the the territory’s first million-dollar judgment in Christian’s court in 1973, paraphrased what he believes to be one of the judge’s guiding tenets.
"The best way to describe what he might say about a ruling is, 'It might not meet the strictest requirement of the law, but it’s justice,'" said Alkon. "That was his guiding principle."
Presiding District Court Judge Raymond Finch called Christian a "consummate professional" who never took it easy on the attorneys who ventured into his court — including a young lawyer named Finch.
"He was a taskmaster. He expected lawyers to know the law," Finch said, recalling with a hearty laugh the first time he tried a case in Christian’s court. "It was a very memorable moment. I speak from first-hand knowledge."
From 1982 to 1984 Stacy White was a law clerk for Christian. The time spent working for the judge set the foundation for his legal career on St. Croix, White said.
But while he was able to soak up knowledge working in the judge's chambers, it meant that he had to be twice as good when he was lawyering in the judge’s court.
"He was doubly strict on his former clerks" who knew they had to be perfect, White said.
But for all his sternness and intellectual rigor, both White and Finch said Christian was very fair with defendants.
"As a judge, his wisdom and compassion were unequaled," White said. "He was able to see beyond the mere words of a statute."
One decision that epitomized Christian’s sense of justice and compassion came in the case of Evans v. Hozier almost 30 years ago. Christian declared that it was unconstitutional to deprive the children of people holding green cards in the territory from attending public schools.
"Judge Christian was bitterly assailed for his decision," said Sen. Lorraine Berry. "But he stuck to his principles that wherever he could be instrumental in bettering the lives of people he would do so . . . as long as it was within the law."
In 1969, Christian was the first Virgin Islander appointed as judge to the District Court, noted Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II. In 1994, the District Court Building on St. Croix was named for him.
"The fact that Judge Christian was renamed by three subsequent U.S. presidents to serve in that position is testimony to his ability, honesty and integrity," James said.
Gov. Charles Turnbull has directed that the flags of the territory, already at half staff for the late Senator Earle B. Ottley, remain flown at half staff in tribute to Christian until sunset on the day he is buried.
For Finch, who on a daily basis enters a courthouse named after the man who singlehandedly set the standard for federal judges in the territory, walking in Christian’s footsteps doesn’t mean he fills them.
"The bar set by Judge Christian was so high it is almost impossible to get to that height," Finch said. "His death is a tremendous loss to the judicial community and the Virgin Islands community in general."

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