Inga Barks

Friday, Feb 17 2012 04:00 PM

INGA BARKS: The Arthur E. Wallace Federal Courthouse has the best ring to it

By Inga Barks

When the Bakersfield City Council voted to name a Highway 58 interchange after Rosa Parks, I argued against it. Not because of any lack of respect for Rosa Parks. She was an undisputed mother of an era of the civil rights movement in a watershed time.

I opposed it because all across the country, Parks already had various roads, bridges, parks and community centers named after her. It just seemed to me at the time that surely we had local figures who had also fought a good fight and equally deserved our local praise.

I made the same case in this column about the 2011 naming of a naval ship after Cesar Chavez. Though my critics at the time tried to make it into a race issue, it had nothing to do with race and everything to do with taking the opportunity to honor someone whose name isn't already on placards across the country. Again, no offense to Bill Thomas, Cesar Chavez or Rosa Parks. But aren't their legacies squared away by now? Isn't it time to give credit to other not-so-recognizable folks?

This is why I believe we should name the new local federal courthouse after the late Kern County Superior Court Judge Arthur E. Wallace. Doesn't that have a nice ring to it? The Arthur E. Wallace Federal Courthouse?

Now, the naming of a building might not seem like a very big deal. But in the case of the Kern County federal courthouse, it's a congressional issue! That's right, Congress takes time out of its day to vote on naming buildings.

I should be writing this column on how Congress should have better things to do than name post offices and courthouses, and Wallace would probably agree with me. Which is another reason he deserves the honor.

Currently, the big name in the running for the courthouse is Earl Warren, former U.S. chief justice, California governor and Kern County native son. It makes sense to name a federal court building after a former U.S. chief justice, right? It's a no brainer! Except in the case of Warren, it's also uninventive. I return to my earlier argument that like the others listed above, there's already an elementary school, junior high, high school and courthouse bearing the name of Chief Justice Warren.

But who was Art Wallace?

In full disclosure, in the Barks family he was Uncle Art. In fact, I was a few years into being a member of the Barks clan when I found out that Uncle Art and his wonderful and spirited wife, Joan, weren't in fact related to the family.

As a 19 year old dating my husband, we would spend Monday nights watching football at Uncle Art and Aunt Joan's house, and all of my adult life if there was a shindig at a Barks' house, they were in attendance.

Wallace, in his capacity as judge, performed the civil part of my wedding. The last time I saw Uncle Art was last Easter, just days after my husband, Michael, passed away. Uncle Art was then riddled with cancer, which he had amazingly fought off for years after his diagnosis. His concern that day was me and my boys.

That was Art! Both as a judge and as a friend. He didn't pity himself and he focused on others. Art Wallace was a real gem of a guy, who went to church every day before going to work. But none of that is why I advocate for the local courthouse to bear his name.

It's because Wallace was a local boy, Garces grad and highly respected judge in Kern County. When I hosted my radio show in Bakersfield, I often threw out Wallace's name to lawyers and prosecutors. To a person, even the most liberal or most conservative of them spoke to me of Wallace's integrity and work ethic.

He was head Superior Court judge in Kern County and it was often reported to me that he was one of the most fair, honest and, again, hard-working judges in Kern County. Wallace loved being a Kern County judge. Even after being diagnosed with deadly pancreatic cancer in 2009, he continued to show up to work, backing down over time but still clocking in because he loved the law and loved working.

When Art passed away in 2011, his funeral at St. Francis was packed to the brim with local admirers. He was eulogized by friends and respected members of the legal community.

It was an extremely proud moment in my life when one of my oldest friends, Jennifer Thurston, was sworn in as our local federal magistrate judge. Wallace told me I had reason to be proud as Thurston was going to be a great judge.

It was she who mentioned the high opinion many in the legal community had of Wallace and told me that his name had been suggested for the new federal courthouse over which she would be presiding. Inspired by that suggestion, I did a poll at Wallace's funeral. For obvious reasons, everyone I asked agreed that the federal courthouse should be the "Arthur E. Wallace Federal Courthouse." I agree.

If it occurs to you to contact Congressman Kevin McCarthy on this issue, please do. By all means, let's not go with the same old, same old. Let's give this federal building a fitting local name. The Arthur E. Wallace Federal Courthouse, named after a local son, a good man and a passionate advocate for justice in Kern County until the day he died.

May we ALL be remembered so fondly.

-- Inga Barks, who hosts a talk show on KMJ AM 580, is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. You can email her at inga.barks@aol.com. These are Barks' opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Next week: Ric Llewellyn.

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