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A Tribute to Judge James L. Oakes

James L. Oakes, who as a federal judge and longtime trustee helped guide the growth and direction of Vermont Law School since its early days, passed away on Oct. 13, 2007 at age 83.

Judge Oakes' contributions to Vermont Law School are evident throughout the campus. He served on the board of trustees from 1976 through 1994, and since that time had been an active emeritus board member. In 1998, Vermont Law School's new classroom building was formally named "The James L. and Evelena S. Oakes Hall." A portrait of Judge Oakes hangs in the building's main corridor. The portrait, painted by artist Marion Miller, was presented as a gift from his former clerks, who also helped to establish a public service loan repayment endowment in his honor.

In January 2007, Judge Oakes donated a collection of his papers to Vermont Law School, where they are held in the archives of the Julien and Virginia Cornell Library. Only months before his death, Vermont Law School published a 38 — page monograph honoring his life achievements. It includes an insightful and personal tribute to Judge Oakes, authored by a former clerk, Elizabeth A. York, a 1999 Vermont Law School alumna.

Many wonderful tributes were also written about Judge Oakes in the days following his death. They all noted his intellect, fairness and wisdom. Yet those who knew him personally may remember him best for his humanity.

Photo of Judge Oakes by Jason Henske

Jim Oakes liked and cared about people whatever their station," recalled VLS President and Dean Geoffrey B. Shields, who clerked for Judge Oakes in the early 1970s. "He learned from and befriended secretaries, postmen and store clerks, as well as Supreme Court justices, senators, and professors. He loved people and disregarded normal hierarchies."

Vermont Law School will host a memorial celebration of the life of James L. Oakes on November 12, 2007, at 3:00 p.m. in the Yates Common Room of Debevoise Hall. All those who wish to pay tribute to Judge Oakes are invited to attend.


Here is a sampling of tributes to Judge Oakes that appeared in newspapers following his death:

New York Times

Burlington Free Press

Rutland Herald

Rutland Herald