Obituary: James Gibbs, 'counselor in the courtroom'

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 10, 2011 - 9:41 PM

The judge and father of 10 never wanted to give up on the troubled families he worked with, his family said.

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Judge James Gibbs

James Gibbs was a judge for nearly three decades and presided over some of the most emotionally wrenching cases involving couples divorcing and families splitting up.

But for the Anoka County district judge -- and father of 10 children -- family was important. He wanted to do what he could to keep families together.

"I think he was probably a counselor in the courtroom," said Gibbs' son James Gibbs II. "I don't think he gave up on anybody's family until it was absolutely done. He wanted to make stuff work out. I think that just has to do with what his family values were."

Gibbs died Sept. 3 at his home in Coon Rapids after battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was 76.

Born May 18, 1935, in St. Paul, Gibbs attended a Catholic grade school there and went on to graduate from high school at St. Thomas Academy in 1953. He earned his undergraduate degree from St. Thomas College in St. Paul in 1958 and received his law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in 1964.

Before graduating from law school, Gibbs was a probation officer in Anoka County. After graduation, he began his career at a law firm known at the time as Weaver, Talle and Herrick in Fridley. He worked there 10 years, and during that period also served as assistant city prosecutor in Fridley.

He then went to work for the Barna Guzy law firm until he was appointed by Gov. Al Quie in 1981 to the 10th Judicial District Court bench. That district covers Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Sherburne, Washington and Wright counties.

Before becoming a judge, Gibbs practiced mainly family and criminal law, experience that served him well on the bench.

"My dad always said to me that the reason he loved the law so much was because there was always an answer," Gibbs said. "He always knew he could find an answer. There was absolute certainty for him. He was passionate about family law. He was very protective of children, of families."

Gibbs retired in 2001, but didn't stop there. For almost 10 years following retirement, he filled in for other judges who were temporarily away from the bench. He traveled all over the state and was on the road at least three days a week while subbing for other judges.

"I know he was really proud of being a judge. He said it till the day he died, it was the best job he ever had. It allowed him to meet a lot of people. And my father loved talking to everyone. He liked to hear what people's stories were, and I think he liked to tell them his story and find out what he had in common with them."

Gibbs said his father particularly loved approving adoptions in his courtroom and officiating at weddings. He estimates that his father married close to 500 couples during his judicial career.

"He loved doing weddings because he saw them as new lives starting," Gibbs said. "He liked being part of that."

Besides serving as a judge, Gibbs also taught other judges. During the 1980s, he traveled to the National Judicial College in Reno for several weeks a year and taught judges from across the country about current topics and issues related to courtroom activities.

He was also a devout Catholic who dedicated much of his time to supporting his church. He and his wife, Mary, were members of Holy Cross Church in Minneapolis for almost 25 years.

In addition to his wife of 54 years, he is survived by 10 children, Anne Lorbeski, Molly Jakacki, James Gibbs II, Muffie Pearson, Marne Hicke, Patrick Gibbs, Sean Gibbs, Missy Norlander, Erin Young and Matt Gibbs; a brother, Ned Gibbs; two sisters, Lucy Imholte and Judy Kerr; 26 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Services have been held.

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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