History of the Barney Masterson Inn of Court

The formation of the Barney Masterson American Inn of Court is largely attributed to the efforts of Judge William Castagna. In 1988, the efforts of Judge Castagna and others who had worked together to create and build a Pinellas County Inn of Court were realized and the Pinellas County Inn of Court was formed.

The Inn was not given its current name until 1995 after the death of one of its beloved members, Bernard J. "Barney" Masterson. Barney Masterson practiced primarily in Pinellas County. The renaming of the Inn posthumously for Barney was fitting because of Barney's involvement in the Inn and the high standards by which he lived his life and practiced law.

The size and focus of the Barney Masterson Inn has changed over the years, reflecting the needs and interests of its membership and the changing legal profession. While specialization is permitted by the American Inn of Court, the Barney Masterson Inn is a general inn. The Inn strives to focus on issues of importance to lawyers in Pinellas County, regardless of their practice area (civil or criminal, family or commercial, bankruptcy or administrative law) or nature of the practice (private practice or government entity, large firm or solo practitioner). If this Inn focuses on any particular area, it is litigation. The Inn attempts to cover all areas of litigation that may be of interest to its members. The Inn tries to balance the educational aspects of its programs with the goals of camaraderie, mentoring, and professionalism that are of the utmost importance to the Inn.

About Barney Masterson

Bernard J. "Barney" Masterson was born in Chicago, Illinois in March of 1919. He received his B.A. degree from the University of Florida in 1941 and immediately joined the Army, serving during World War II as a Staff sergeant in New Guinea. Following his Army days, he returned to the University of Florida, where he received his J.D. degree in 1952.

Masterson started his career as a solo practitioner in St. Petersburg; but soon joined the firm of Mann, Harrison & Stone where he began establishing a reputation as an impeccable gentleman who was hard-working but fun-loving and who displayed an air of graciousness and an incomparable sense of humor. By 1960, Masterson struck out on his own with a successful plaintiff's personal injury practice. Never one to seek the limelight, Masterson was nevertheless one of the first attorneys in the nation to take on General Motors in a case arising out of the Corvair. In 1991, he obtained for his client one the largest jury verdicts ever awarded in a personal injury case in Pinellas County, Florida.

Masterson was well-known throughout his career for his devotion to his clients. His goal was always to do what was in the best interest of his client, but never at the expense of others. He refused to take advantage of the inexperience of his opposing counsel. He refused to denigrate other lawyers or witnesses to advance his case at trial. He refused to file suits he did not believe in, saying he "had no business filing a medical malpractice case that was in any respect dubious, that all doubts about filing the suit should be resolved in favor of the defendant doctor." His idea of discovery was to open his file to the other side and say, "Here is my case. If you need anything else, let me know and I will get it for you."

Masterson earned the respect of others by treating everyone - be they clients, judges, other lawyers or opposing parties - with respect. For example, in a medical malpractice case, Masterson was taking the deposition of a doctor who was a witness to some of the events giving rise to the case. During the course of the deposition, it became obvious that the doctor would have to be made a party to the suit. Rather than simply serving the doctor with a summons, Masterson asked if he could speak with the doctor in his office after the deposition. There, Masterson explained that he was going to have to include the doctor in the suit and explained why. Years later, Masterson's son, Tom - also an attorney - needed to depose the same doctor in another case. With some trepidation, Tom called the doctor and introduced himself, expecting caution or even anger since his father had previously sued the doctor. Instead, the doctor greeted Tom warmly, asked about Masterson, and went on to praise Masterson for his professionalism and graciousness in handling the prior suit.

In addition to his law practice, Masterson was active in politics and Bar activities. He headed several political campaigns and fund-raising drives for local Democratic candidates. He was appointed by several Florida governors to various commissions concerning medical malpractice and Florida's malpractice insurance crisis. He served as a City Judge for the City of Pinellas Park. During his years of practice, he served as president of the Pinellas County Trial Lawyers Association and President and Treasurer of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers. He was a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission for the Florida Second District Court of Appeal and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He was also active in the Trial Lawyers Section of the Florida Bar and was famous for his memorable lecture on "How to Try a Dog." In addition, he was an Adjunct Professor at Stetson University College of Law in St. Petersburg.

Despite his busy legal schedule, Masterson did not let the law take over his life. He enjoyed traveling, particularly to Ireland and throughout the Northeast United States. He loved Shakespeare, classical music and classic movies. He was an avid tennis player, especially when he could play doubles. As in court, his graciousness and humor would disarm his opponent, and he would then take them apart point by point.

One of the most powerful testimonials to Masterson's legal career is the fact that following his death, two separate groups independently created a "Barney Masterson Award" in his memory. The Barney Masterson American Inn of Court gives the "Barney" award annually to that Inn member who best exemplifies the qualities Masterson expressed, including the highest levels of professionalism, civility, ethics, and legal excellence. The Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers award in honor of Masterson is given to an attorney recognized as an excellent advocate who has had a distinguished career and who has an "unimpeachable reputation with both the defense and plaintiff's bar for ethical and moral behavior and fair play in the practice of law."

Upon his passing in 1994, Masterson left his wife, Stella, four children, Thomas, Steven, Michael and Sharon, and ten grandchildren. At a memorial service for Masterson, former Florida Bar President Bill Blews said of him, "Barney practiced as he lived - with modesty, honesty, integrity, good humor and respect for all. It has been said that to be a good lawyer, first you must be a good person. Barney was the best."