64 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 822 (1995-1996)
John Helm Pratt

handle is hein.journals/gwlr64 and id is 830 raw text is: John Helm Pratt

John Garret Penn*
Judge John Helm Pratt served as a Judge on the United States District
Court for the District of Columbia from 1968 until his death on August 11,
1995. He was an extraordinary man and one whose background demon-
strated his commitment to the law, his country, and his family.
John Pratt was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on November 17,
1910. He later came to Washington, D.C., where he completed his precollege
education. He graduated, cum laude, from Harvard College at the age of
nineteen. Fortunately, he was drawn to law and he attended Harvard Law
School and graduated from that institution in 1934. He was a member of the
bars of the District of Columbia and Maryland. In 1938, he married Bernice
G. Pratt, his beloved Sissy, and they became the parents of four daughters
and one son. He practiced law until after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the
entry of this country into World War II, when he joined the United States
Marines and served from 1942 to 1946. Much of that time was spent in the
Pacific theater where he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and
two Presidential Unit citations. John Pratt paid heavily for his service; he
lost his left arm. He completed his active military career as a captain. Typi-
cal of Judge Pratt, he rarely if ever discussed his accomplishments in the mili-
tary; rather he talked about others or about various military campaigns.
Having an interest in military history, I enjoyed hearing him discuss his war-
time experience. I was amazed that in the twilight years of his life and so
many years after the war, he still remembered particular ground and sea cam-
paigns, and the names of many of the ships involved in sea battles. Never did
I hear him express any regret over the time he served or the loss of his arm.
After the war, John Pratt returned to the practice of law and in 1968,
President Lyndon B. Johnson had the wisdom and foresight to appoint him to
the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. As a judge,
John Pratt handled many complex and sensitive cases. Always, he showed
the compassion and deep commitment to the law that were his trademarks. I
don't think that he came to the court with an agenda. Rather, he approached
each case with a willingness to listen, to consider, and to decide as he felt the
law directed. He maintained strict control over his courtroom, but he did so
in an effort to have counsel address the relevant facts and issues and with a
desire to see that justice prevailed.
I greatly admired John Pratt and I valued his advice and judgment. He
was a judge who attempted to utilize the tools of his profession for the good
of all litigants. One could be sure that even when he heard a case involving
* Chief Judge, United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
June/August 1996 Vol. 64 Nos. 516

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