WINCHESTER — He sat on the bench, but never looked down on anyone from it.
Judge Neil Randolph “Randy” Bryant, who conversed with Spanish-speaking defendants in their native language to build rapport and quoted Latin phrases to add levity to dry courtroom proceedings, is remembered as a smart man who who didn’t let his intellect go to this head.
Bryant, 67, died Saturday. His obituary didn’t list a cause of death, but a debilitating back injury forced him to retire in 2019, just four years after being named a judge in Virginia’s 26th Judicial Circuit. The pain was so great that Bryant sometimes stood at a lectern during his final months on the bench.
Bryant grew up on Kern Street in Winchester. He attended school with Tommy Dixon, who would go on to coach the Handley High School boys’ basketball team for 27 years. Dixon recalled the two playing sports together at parks as boys and then competing together on the Handley track team where Bryant was a long-distance runner. Bryant, a Winchester School Board member from 1997 to 2003 and 2006-12, helped coach the track and field team for Handley in the 2000s.
“Everything he had to say was positive and was a just a good, good friend,” Dixon said. “He enjoyed running and used that to better kids later in life through his coaching.”
Bryant, a father of two, attended the University of Richmond on a track scholarship graduating in 1977. He earned his law degree at the university’s T.C. Williams School of Law in 1980 and passed the bar later that year.
Bryant practiced civil and criminal law. In 1986, Bryant and attorneys Nikolas E. Parthemos and John R. Prosser formed the firm of Prosser, Parthemos & Bryant. It became Parthemos & Bryant when Prosser became a judge in the 26th Circuit in 1997. Parthemos and Bryant were partners until Bryant was appointed to the bench in 2015.
Parthemos said Bryant enjoyed researching legal opinions and precedents and discussing and debating American history. Parthemos preferred the strong federal government philosophy of Alexander Hamilton while Bryant liked the states rights beliefs of Thomas Jefferson. Despite his interest in such lofty subjects, Parthemos said Bryant was still a people person.
“He brought the necessary brains to the practice of law and the heart to do it with compassion and caring for people,” he said. “He cared more about doing good than making money. That’s not to say that he didn’t care about making money, but he cared more about doing good for people.”
Timothy S. Coyne, area public defender, met Bryant in 1991 after moving to the area to practice law. He said Bryant gained judicial experience from presiding as a substitute judge in general district and juvenile and domestic relations courts before being named to the 26th Circuit. Coyne said Bryant’s intellect helped him cut to the chase in legal matters as a judge and render fair decisions.
Bryant and Judge Alexander R. Iden were the first two judges to preside over the Northwest Regional Adult Drug Court, an alternative to incarceration created in 2016. Coyne said Bryant empathized with defendants, many of whom have struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction for much of their lives.
“He did a fantastic job interacting with the participants,” Coyne said. “He was able to relate to them in a way that was unique and very effective.”
In his last public remarks during the dedication of a painting of him at the Joint Judicial Center in December of 2019, Bryant thanked the bailiffs, court clerks and judicial staff with whom he worked for making his job easier.
Rebecca Hogan, Frederick County Court Clerk since 1997, said the sentiment was mutual. Hogan, who knew Bryant since she began working in the clerk’s office in 1980, said he had a down-to-earth relationship with everyone in her office both as an attorney and judge.
“When he left the bench he was missed,” she said. “He was there for us if we had a problem. We had each other’s backs.”