I was fortunate to know Judge William B. Bryant, both during his days as the outstanding member of the criminal defense bar and after his appointment to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and as chief judge [front page, Nov. 15].

Judge Bryant reveled in the law, treating counsel and litigant alike with warmth, wit and wisdom. I particularly recall a tort action against the federal government and the District in which a jury heard the claim against the District while Judge Bryant simultaneously heard the case against the federal government, as required by statute.

The trial involved a 24-year-old chemist who was rendered a paraplegic when his vehicle was struck on a windless summer day by a massive tree that fell on Klingle Road, a parkway for which both defendants bore specific responsibilities.

After a lengthy trial, the jury found the city negligent. It awarded the man the modest sum of $250,000 as compensation for past and future earnings losses; medical, hospital and surgical expenses; nursing; special needs; and lifelong loss of use of his lower extremities and body function. When the foreman announced the sum, I saw an unforgettable expression of compassion on Judge Bryant's face as he looked at the plaintiff.

Later, in a written opinion, Judge Bryant found the federal government jointly liable; he awarded the plaintiff $975,000, a finding unanimously upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

It was gratifying that the sitting members of the federal court unanimously requested two years ago that the courthouse's new annex be named for this giant of the law.