The following tributes to Hon. Phillip S. Figa were received by the Colorado Bar Association (CBA) shortly after his death in January 2008. Judge Figa was a U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Colorado and the 1995–96 CBA President.
In Remembrance of Phil Figa
by Phil Barber, January 2008
Phil Figa was the kind of person who made most people he met think he was their friend. The community’s mutual affection for Phil was movingly displayed in the bereavement that followed a life that was too early taken from us.
The funeral service for Phil was held at Rodef Shalom Synagogue, where the main sanctuary was filled and overflowing with family, members of the federal and state district and appellate benches, colleagues, present and former employees, neighbors, past presidents of the CBA, a U.S. Senator and Representative, and others whose lives had intersected with and were touched by Judge Figa. All came to pay their respects, with heads bowed and heavy hearts. We will long remember the beautiful and solemn sound of Saul Rosenthal’s voice as he sang during the service.
Hon. John Kane delivered an eloquent and personal description of Phil’s eagerness to learn the art of judging so that his decisions would apply the law equally and compassionately. He regretted he was not able to break bread with Phil one last time at their standard Saturday breakfast.
Phil’s longtime friend, partner, and colleague, David Richman, gave a heartfelt description of their personal and professional relationship. David’s admiration for the judge and feeling of loss were apparent. He recounted the patience and humanity that Phil showed to those who appeared in his court. He said they frequently received letters from jurors who had served in their cases, thanking Phil and his staff for the positive experience. David said that Phil could be persuasive, too, going so far as to organize his staff to run the Colfax Marathon relay a few years back.
Barb Schatzman, a longtime friend and part-time quilter, described how she met both Phil and her husband at Northwestern, just about the time Phil met his future bride and lifelong partner, Candace Cole. Their friendship lasted through college, law school, the raising of families, and many shared adventures on bikes, skis, boats, and foot. According to Barb, Phil was the consummate organizer of their family get-togethers and of new experiences for her. She jokingly said that Phil was the reason she no longer skis—after he took her down a black diamond slope on one of her first visits to Colorado. Barb compared Phil’s life as a father, son, husband, brother, friend, esteemed lawyer, judge, and humanitarian to a patchwork quilt with an oversized heart in the center.
Phil’s children, Ben and Lizzie, read posthumous letters they had composed for their father. Each spoke beautifully of a love that every parent would like their children to have for them. Lizzie recounted the large and small things that make her father irreplaceable in her life: the random "I love you" messages left on her cell phone; buying her that car that she wanted; and being an example of how to receive and give love to others. Ben talked about his experiences with his father, and how fortunate they were to share many happy times together. Phil was Ben’s "hero" and Ben only wished that he had told him that more often. Candy did not speak at the service; however, she displayed the same strength and grace that she must have brought to their marriage.
The interment at Mount Nebo Cemetery took place under frigid, grey skies; appropriately, it felt like a winter day in Illinois. I still remember the graveside lamentation sung by Stewart, Phil’s younger brother. A cantor from the Chicago area, his voice vibrated with sincerity and sadness as he sang the burial chant. It is simply not possible to write words that convey the sanctity and emotion of that moment.
Over the next several days, the Figas hosted shiva (a seven-day bereavement gathering and time of prayer) at their home. Candy, Ben, Lizzie, and other family members greeted throngs of friends, neighbors, and colleagues in a way that made us feel welcome and a little less sad. As Lizzie pointed out, this was a way they could offer comfort to those who will miss Phil.
A story that the rabbi shared at the funeral service provided a fitting metaphor to help us deal with the tragedy of the past year. He explained that transplanted trees often leave a small root or seedling in the ground that regenerates, even though the tree is gone. In the past few weeks, one can see that the regeneration has already begun.
Tribute to Phillip S. Figa*
by Diana DeGette, U.S. Representative
I rise to honor the extraordinary life and exceptional accomplishments of United States District Court Judge Phillip S. Figa. This exceptional jurist merits both our recognition and esteem as his impressive record of civic leadership and invaluable service has improved the lives of many Coloradoans.
Sadly, Judge Figa was taken from us by a brain tumor at the young age of fifty-six and he will be greatly missed. His passion for the law and justice and his capacity for community service were beyond measure. He molded a life of genuine accomplishment and served our nation with distinction. His passing is a great loss to the federal bench and our entire community.
. . .
President Bush nominated Judge Figa to the United States District Court and he was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 2, 2003. During the confirmation process, Senators of both parties viewed him as highly intelligent and a fair prospective jurist. Many friends, family and associates have praised Judge Figa as "even handed" . . . "smart, caring and authentic" . . . "a great jurist" . . . "a true humanitarian" . . . "one who brought passion and integrity to the field of law" . . . " a humble and gracious man who genuinely cared about helping other people." I was honored to give the highest recommendation to the Senate Judiciary Committee. On a personal note, Judge Figa was a good friend of both me and my husband. He was loved and respected across the legal community. Judge Figa was a mensch—an upright, honorable and decent human being.
Judge Figa has been recognized with several accolades and honors including nomination to the International Society of Barristers, the American Bar Foundation and the Colorado Bar Foundation. He was honored by the Colorado Supreme Court for "outstanding leadership of the Coalition for the Independence of the Colorado Judiciary" and in January of 2006, he was named one of the Leading Judges in America by The Lawdragon. On February 4th, 2008, the Anti-Defamation League [presented] the late Judge Figa with the Distinguished Community Service Award "for his commitment to human rights and dignity, and his dedicated service to his community, state and nation." Judge Figa lived a life that is rich in consequence and our country is a better place because of his labors. . . . Please join me in paying tribute to the life of United States District Court Judge Phillip S. Figa, a distinguished jurist. It is the values, leadership and dedication he exhibited during his life that serves to build a better future for all of us.
*This is an abbreviated version of Rep. DeGette’s tribute, which first appeared in the Congressional Record (Jan. 16, 2008). Reprinted by permission.