The Honorable James A. Parker: Gentleman, Judge, Mentor and Loyal Friend

The Honorable James A. Parker, respected by all, revered by many, died of natural causes on September 16, 2022 at the age of 85. Judge Parker’s dedication to principles of integrity, hard work, and a commitment to zealous and effective representation of his clients was honed in his 25 years of law practice at Modrall, Sperling, Roehl, Harris, & Sisk, before President Ronald Reagan had the good judgment to nominate Jim in 1987 to serve as a United States District Judge for the District of New Mexico, as successor to the Honorable Howard C. Bratton, another distinguished judge in the annals of the District of New Mexico. His nomination was quickly confirmed and he took the bench in November, 1987. There, he served with distinction for over 35 years, setting high standards for himself, his colleagues, his judicial clerks and all those appearing in his court.

Attempting to capture the essence of Judge Parker (or “Jim” as he was known while at the firm) is daunting. These few modest words will not do justice to what this man meant to his family, to his former law partners, to the New Mexico legal community, and to the people who he served as clients or who he served as parties in his courtroom.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Jim graduated from Rice University in 1959 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He then earned his law degree – graduating first in his class – from the University of Texas in 1962. Jim then joined the Modrall Sperling firm, then in its 25th year, where he practiced law and garnered a stellar reputation as a thoughtful and effective, yet reasonable advocate throughout the Bar of attorneys in the State of New Mexico. He practiced at Modrall Sperling for 25 years serving not only as an advocate, counselor and advisor to clients, but also as a mentor to many members of the Modrall Sperling firm, not to mention leading the firm as its managing partner for several years. Always a mentor to younger lawyers, a frequent lesson for all was the importance of one’s reputation in the bar, recognizing that one can be an effective advocate for our clients while not being disagreeable with opposing counsel. Over time, he was also something of an informal firm historian, a role he continued to serve after he was elevated to the bench. He was known to join firm functions to describe the firm’s historical roots and evolution. And, emblematic of his modesty, he would skip over the part about who joined the firm in 1962, at least when it came to his story.

Modrall Sperling’s “loss” of Judge Parker to the federal bench was, of course, bittersweet for those who had the privilege of practicing with him at the firm. That “loss,” however, inured to the benefit of the federal bench, the citizens and residents of New Mexico, and legal practitioners and parties that appeared before him.

Judge Parker set high standards for civility and integrity in his courtroom. And, in every way, he was a gentleman. As was reported in the Albuquerque Journal in a September 24, 2022 article, cited below: “‘If I had to speak to any one characteristic to define him, it would be that he was unfailingly a gentleman at all times, with everyone,’ said Senior U.S. District Judge Martha Vázquez, who served with [Judge] Parker since she joined the court in 1993.” And in that same article, “‘He was a very generous and caring person,’ said retired Senior U.S. District Judge C. LeRoy Hansen, a longtime friend of [Judge] Parker’s. ‘He enjoyed the law and was really thorough in his study and application of the law.’”

His dedication and service is exemplified by his commitment to traveling throughout New Mexico to hear cases, saving parties and their counsel the need to travel and expend limited funds to participate in federal court proceedings. In doing so, Judge Parker would often find someone to do the driving, so that he could sit in the back seat, review pleadings and other materials, and often dictate memoranda and opinions on the road.

Something of a renaissance man, Jim was a skier, runner and avid fly fisherman. He learned the latter skill from the Honorable Augustus T. (“Joe”) Seymour, a member of Modrall Sperling who had served on the New Mexico Supreme Court earlier in his career. Jim had been heard to say that he was “forever grateful” to Judge Seymour for teaching him how to fly fish.

Even after he was elevated to the federal bench, Judge Parker maintained close, yet ethically proper relationships with Modrall Sperling and his former colleagues at the firm. To further illustrate, for example, from beginning to end of his judicial career, he would not accept cases in which firm lawyers with whom he had worked appeared. We will miss him, and his legacy – reflected in his professional life and personal values — will live on in the members of Modrall Sperling.


For other perspectives on Judge Parker’s life of service, please see: