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Day 23 – a Bruce Thompson redux

By ThisIsReno

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Submitted by Karl Breckenridge | Feature Image: Bob Conrad

Retired Washoe County District Court Judge Lew Carnahan sent this along, and I’d like to work it into the Judge Bruce Thompson piece that we ran last week in This is Reno:

Lew Carnahan
Lew Carnahan.
Image: Karl Breckenridge

A thoroughly delightful column on our famous and revered local federal district judge, Judge Bruce R. Thompson. I must, with appropriate temerity propose one correction. Judge Thompson ascended the federal bench in 1963, a brilliant nomination of President John F. Kennedy. You used the date 1978 for when he became a federal judge, but that was the year he became a senior federal district judge. [Thanks, Your Honor; I relied on a Wikipedia source and now rereading it, I can only say mea culpa!]

As a side note, I once had the opportunity to visit with a Justice of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal while in law school in Oregon. When I mentioned I was from Reno, the Justice immediately wanted to know if I knew who Judge Bruce Thompson was. When I said, “Of course;” he was off and running: “Judge Thompson is the most brilliant district judge in the entire Ninth Circuit and whenever there is a backlog of cases in any of our many districts [at the time the Ninth included all states west of the continental divide, including Hawaii and Alaska], we always ask Judge Thompson to help out, and he always gets the job done quickly, fairly and to the satisfaction of virtually all. His decisions are almost never appealed and if they are, it is virtually unheard of for it to be reversed.

Washoe County can stand tall and proud to have produced a human being of the integrity, intelligence and character of Judge Bruce R. Thompson (and his brother Gordon, a former Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court was no slouch either).

OK – I wanted to post Lew Carnahan’s inbound message about Hizzoner, but it’s not quite long enough to give you readers your money’s worth this morning – so I turned to text in my own book about Reno to supplement the column and excerpted from a chapter about Judge Thompson. So away we go in This is Reno!

Two quick stories: The first is of the out-of-town attorney, in Reno to try a case in Judge Thompson’s court.  The judge’s eyes, as was his wont, remained closed for an extended period of time.  The visiting attorney, unfamiliar with the judge’s proclivity to close his eyes, the better to digest the testimony, stopped and objected vehemently that the presiding judge was sleeping through the trial.

Judge Thompson opened his eyes, looked in the direction of the court reporter, told her to peel back a couple of pages from her Stenotype machine and track him.  He then recited, verbatim, the last two or three questions posed by the objecting attorney, with the witness’ responses, also verbatim.  He looked at the reporter.  “Close?” he asked.  “Dead on, Your Honor,” she replied. 

Bruce R. Thompson Federal Building
Bruce R. Thompson Federal Building.
Image: Bob Conrad

The judge then swept his hand in the direction of the chagrined attorney and, returning his eyelids to their restive state, bade him to please continue.  I can’t speak as to who prevailed in the eventual outcome of the case, but would surmise that that attorney was on his toes for the balance of the trial.

A second story deals with a trial in Judge Thompson’s court involving a heady regional issue and attended by a relatively large number of out-of-town heavyweight attorneys, several accounts at nine, others closer to a dozen – all teeming around the parties’ tables in the courtroom. 

Things were not going well in the opening hours of the procedure – neither the judge nor the court reporter could sort out the names of this assembled mélange to give instructions or attribution to.  The judge declared a recess, and set his clerk to a task.

When court reconvened, the gaggle of counsel reentered the courtroom, each wearing a postcard-sized tag, suspended from his or her neck by a rudimentary piece of twine.  On each tag was a number, of a size sufficient to be seen by the judge and the reporter.  They wore them for the rest of the lengthy trial.  Court watchers are in agreement that it was humbling experience for some, to arrive in our town as legends in their own mind, their names household words in their home venues, to become known as Attorney No. 11 or simply 11, if they arrived at a first-name basis.

That’s my story and Judge Carnahan’s, and we’re stickin’ to ‘em. Come back tomorrow – I’ve another column to write, actually to assemble – Don Hartman and Larry Champagne already wrote it. Be safe, huh?

Submitted opinions do not represent the views of ThisisReno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

Karl Breckenridge

Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally. 

Read more from Karl Breckenridge


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