Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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John Wallace Banks was well prepared when he entered upon his judicial career. He was a sound and experienced lawyer and possessed an unusual number of personal qualifications, one of which was a judicial temperament, difficult to define, but of vital importance in the making of a successful judge.
He was born on September 22, 1867, in Bethlehem in Litchfield County, Connecticut, the son of George W. and Eliza Frances Banks. His ancestry has been traced to John Banks, a graduate of Oxford University and a lawyer, who settled in Wethersfield in 1643. Our John Banks was graduated from Yale in 1889, Phi Beta Kappa, with high honors in political science, history and law, and from the Yale Law School in 1893, having been associate editor of the Yale Law Journal for a brief period. He was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1893 and in that year established a law partnership in Bridgeport with William T. Hincks, his Yale classmate. In 1896 he was married to Mary Cowles Gay, of Farmington.
In October, 1898, Judge Banks was appointed referee in bankruptcy, the first in Fairfield County after the passage of the federal Bankruptcy Act, and served for twenty-two years, during which period he continued in the active practice of law in other than bankruptcy matters. In 1902 Allan W. Paige joined the law firm of Banks and Hincks, but the firm was dissolved in October, 1905, when Mr. Hincks went into the investment banking business. In July, 1912, John W. Banks and Edward K. Nicholson joined forces. They continued their association until Judge Banks began his judicial career on January 10, 1920, after appointment to the Superior Court upon nomination by Governor Marcus H. Holcomb.
Judge Banks served on our highest trial court until his elevation to the Supreme Court of Errors on April 21, 1927. He was pretty nearly the ideal trial judge. His patience was remarkable, but there was always an unobtrusive admixture of firmness. He skillfully shortened the proceedings by defining the relevant issues and insisting that the irrelevant ones be discarded. Were there a degree "Master of Relevancy," it should have been awarded to John Banks. Courteous, serene and unruffled, he appeared to get more so during the wear and tear of difficult trials, but in fact he was very much in command of any situation that arose. His charges to juries were legal masterpieces, concisely reviewing the relevant facts and the applicable law, in clear, easily understandable language.
The transition from the very active life of the trial judge to the somewhat solitary and secluded existence of a justice of the Supreme Court is always a difficult one. It was so with Judge Banks. He liked the excitement attending the trial of cases. He enjoyed studying the witnesses, their testimony, their personal characteristics. He knew human nature and was adept in the art of "sizing up" witnesses. The lawyers liked and admired him. Soon, however, he became accustomed to the arduous work of the Supreme Court, and his ability to write concise opinions which revealed his mastery of the law and his penchant for relevancy was notable. He served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court until his retirement at the age of seventy.
John Banks was a delightful and interesting companion. He and his lovely wife entertained extensively in the fine home which, perhaps to an unusual extent, was the heart and center of their lives. John was an ardent fisherman, a lover of the outdoors. A fine woodsman, he maintained an active membership in the Metabetchouan Club in Canada. Slight of build and wiry, he was exceedingly hardy. Golf was a favorite pastime. It was a joy to play with him, for his companionship was extremely rewarding. When he made on good drive his only ejaculation was "Pshaw," and when he made a good one, he exclaimed "There."
John Banks died on March 8, 1958, at the ages of ninety, following an illness of considerable length.[footer.htm]