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."