F. Owen Eagan of West Hartford was one of four retired judges to attend the ceremony and portrait unveiling.
Submitted by Owen R. Eagan
Retired U.S. Magistrate Judge and longtime West Hartford resident F. Owen Eagan was among four retired magistrate judges honored at a standing-room-only ceremonial session of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on June 3, 2016.
Retired Magistrate Judges Arthur H. Latimer, who accepted the distinction in absentia, Thomas P. Smith and Holly B. Fitzsimmons were also honored during the session, which was held at the Richard C. Lee U.S. Courthouse in New Haven.
The ceremony featured remarks from two serving District Court Judges, Janet C. Hall, who is chief judge, and Robert N. Chatigny, as well as speeches from former law clerks of each magistrate about their characters. The magistrates were also recognized with the unveiling of their portraits, three of which will be placed in courtrooms in Hartford, with Fitzsimmons’ hanging in Bridgeport.
Eagan, a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather was appointed magistrate judge in 1975. Magistrate Judges are appointed by federal district court judges to handle cases of any type, excluding felony cases.
In 1996, the Hartford Courant wrote about Eagan upon the occasion of his retirement as having “the easy, comforting manner of a parish priest.”
“He speaks in a clear but soft voice, as though forever concerned he might disturb someone in the next room,” the Courant wrote. “He has a disarming tendency to punctuate each sentence with a smile.”
Eagan’s calm and deliberate way served him throughout his career on the bench, as he worked carefully to solve or settle all of the matters presented to him.
When the Puerto Rican guerilla group Los Macheteros perpetrated what was at the time largest bank heist in history, robbing $7.1 million from a West Hartford Wells Fargo depot in 1983, Eagan handled the initial appearance in the case, peacefully walking each day to his courtroom with armed guards posted throughout the building to consider the case.
Later, in 1993, after numerous lawsuits challenged the treatment of mentally handicapped patients at the Mansfield Training School, Eagan decided in a difficult ruling to close the institution, paving the way for the mentally handicapped out of closed, institutional settings and into the wider community.
“It worked out well and it’s still working today,” Eagan said of the ruling. He added that he happily stands by his decision today.
After the crash of the real estate market in the 1980s, Eagan was also tasked with handling the cases following the 41 bank closures that shook the state, ultimately settling or trying 1,000 of the bank-related cases to right the system and to help those affected.
Eagan also remembers entering state prisons to hear habeas corpus cases brought by prisoners who thought they had received unfair rulings in their convictions. He said that even when the prisoners did not have a strong case to present, it was still significant to him that they were heard.
“We always thought it was important because even though [the prisoner] might be unsatisfied with the decision we’d come down with, they would at least know that they had a hearing,” Eagan said.
After retiring from the magistracy, Eagan used his skill for finding the middle ground in cases as a private mediator, quietly helping clients to settle their differences without costly courtroom battles until he retired his practice in 2015. Now 85, Eagan still serves as a judge on the Mohegan Gaming Disputes Court for the Mohegan Tribe—in a court system that he helped to create in providing guidance to the tribe since the 1990s.
“I’ll stay for a while doing that,” Eagan said.
Eagan said he was pleased with the portrait and happy that members of his family and many friends could be with him to celebrate the day.
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