Judges Maintain Order in the Court – and in Marriage

He remembers it vividly. A young woman in a black and white outfit with mayonnaise on her face attracted his eye, and all Judge Robert R. Rigsby could say was, “Would you like a napkin?” Two months later, the judge and the woman, Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby,said, “I do.” The rest is history.

September will mark the couples 17th anniversary, and their romance is very much alive. It only takes 10 minutes tonotice how they complement each other. He’s the outgoing joking type, who affectionately says of his wife, “She’s my baby’s mama.” Blackburne-Rigsby is more reserved andhas a quiet demeanor that shows she’s all about her family.

“The best way to love it, is to model it,” said Blackburne-Rigsby about her marriage. It’s ironic that both spouses are judges. “Where I’m from, I never saw black judges, female judges or even judges of color,” said Rigsby, an associate judge on the District of Columbia Superior Court, after being appointed in 2002 by former President George W. Bush. “In our town I knew of one black lawyer.”

Born in San Francisco and raised in Vallejo, Calif., Rigsby, 48, received his law degree from the University of California, SanFrancisco, and his Bachelor of Science degree from San Jose State University.

“Beside every good man is a good woman,” Rigsby said. Very proud of his wife, Rigsby will not let anyone forget that he is the lucky one.

Blackburne-Rigsby, graduated top in her class at Duke University and top of her class at Howard University Law School. Born in Washington, but raised in the Jamaica, N.Y., Blackburne-Rigsby always knew she would one day have a career in law. The daughter of a retired judge, she grew up with two parents who were very active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, (NAACP). Determined to make her own mark, Blackburne-Rigsby planned to be a civil rights lawyer. However, she is now an associate judge in the Court of Appeals, after being appointed to the Superior Court in 2000 by former President William Clinton.

“This is my best friend and buddy,” said Blackburne-Rigsby, describing her husband. After 17 years, their marriage is very much alive as the couple periodically gazed at one another affectionately. “When we first married, I told him I wanted to continue dating, so every Friday we go on a date,” Blackburne-Rigsby said. He’s a morning person; she’s a night owl. She’s a Catholic; he’s a Baptist. She adores cats; he dislikes them strongly. When they first met she was Ms. Independent, while he was very much the military guy. Nevertheless, it works for them. Preparing to leave for Iraq in a couple of months, Rigsby travels often and has been a judge all around the world, in Egypt, Japan and Korea. “The hardest thing will be missing my partner,” Blackburne Rigsby said. “I will pray and I know he will come back safely.”

Rigsby is going to Iraq as a military judge. It will be the first time a D.C. judge will be in Iraq and Kuwait for six months. He’s been in the Army for 28 years as an active duty and reserve officer. While over there he will oversee courts-martial involving U.S. soldiers to make sure justice is served in the war zone. Both are very humble about their accomplishments, they understand the importance of helping others. “You must give back by your words, but by your deeds,” Rigsby said. They are both active at Shiloh Baptist Church and in the extracurricular activities of their 11-year-old son Julian, such as Boy Scouts and his T-ball.

At times, Julian lets his parents’ careers rub off on him. “Sometimes I’ll ask Julian about his homework, and he’ll try and negotiate whether he should do it or not,” Rigsby said.

For the couple, life is full of negotiations. “We bump heads in life, but who doesn’t,” said Blackburne-Rigsby of her marriage. Who would have knew that meeting at a 30th birthday party; would turn into the union of one of D.C.’s most powerful couple?