Robert T.S. Colby

Robert T.S. Colby

Retired District Court judge dies at 95.

    Retired Alexandria General District Court judge Robert T.S. Colby died April 16 at the age of 95.

Robert T.S. Colby, a retired Alexandria General District Court judge known for what became known as the “Colby Deal” for first time offenders who appeared before him, died April 16 at Inova Alexandria Hospital after a brief illness. He was 95.

“I would have to say that Judge Colby had the most unusual approach to being a judge that I think I've ever seen,” said retired Alexandria Circuit Court judge Alfred Swersky, whose friendship with Colby spanned more than 50 years. “I would describe it as a very humanistic approach. He cared a lot about the people that were appearing in front of him and tried his best to help and do what was right.”

Born May 13, 1928, in New York, Colby attended Jamaica High School and came to the DC area to study law. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Georgetown University, completing his studies in 1951.  

Colby served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, attaining the rank of Brigadier General in the Army Reserves. He embarked on a career that included jobs with the federal mediation service in Chicago, the Washington local of the Newspaper Guild, the U.S. attorney's office in Norfolk and his father's law firm. He hung out his shingle in Alexandria in the early 1960s.

He was named to the bench in 1967, retiring in 1992 after serving 24 years. During that time Colby probably became best known for what was described as the "Colby Deal."  

“Judge Colby was unique,” said retired Circuit Court judge James Clark. “He was the first judge I ever appeared before when I started practicing law in 1976. He was very into educating young lawyers. He was eager to have people learn from him and learn from his experiences.”

Clark recalled the origins of the Colby Deal.

“Judge Colby and Judge [Daniel] O’Flaherty were colleagues for decades in the General District Court,” Clark said. “Judge O’Flaherty had a thing that if you were convicted of shoplifting you go to jail for two days. Judge Colby would have you pay a fine. The compromise was that Judge Colby would let you plead guilty, take it under advisement for those two days in jail and then bring the case back up on the docket and dismiss it. That was the goal of the deal — you did your time but didn't end up with a record that followed you the rest of your life.”

Added Swersky, “The Colby Deal was probably the predecessor to what they now call diversion programs.”

Upon his retirement, Colby himself said of his unusual approach, "It's my bat, it's my ball, it's my glove, it's my game. You do what I say.”

Colby maintained a law office on Eisenhower Avenue and served on several boards up until the time of his death. He was a private pilot and passionate aviation educator.

Colby is survived by his wife Lynn Julia (LJ) Pendlebury Colby; daughters Susan Colby Hedrick of Springfield, Wendy Colby of Airville, Penn., Alyce Austin Horwat of Lewis Center, Ohio, Angela Scudder Colby of Westbrook, Conn., and Ellen Pruschowski of Sterling; 11 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. A memorial gathering will be held at a future date. 

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to The Salvation Army, Alexandria VA Citadel, 1804 Mt. Vernon Ave. Alexandria VA 22301, where he was a longtime Advisory Council Board member, or to World Central Kitchen. 

“Judge Colby was an excellent jurist,” Clark said. “He would work with you to help you be better at your craft and was very generous with his time in terms of those sorts of things. He will be missed by everybody that appeared in front of him and there were literally thousands of lawyers who did that.”