In 1940, he joined a San Francisco law firm only to leave to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II, where he was an officer in naval intelligence and in combat in the South Pacific.
Back in San Francisco after the war, Phelps resumed his law practice at the firm Morrison, Foerster, Holloway, Clinton, and Clark. He later left to serve as a prosecutor at the request of then-governor Pat Brown. After two years, he joined Bledsoe, Cathcart, Johnson, and Rogers, where he stayed for a decade and specialized in medical-malpractice defense.
His next move, in the early 1960s, was to Redwood City, where he and two close friends established the firm Ropers, Majeski, and Phelps. "Bart was a top trial lawyer and specialized in complex litigation," his wife Jeanette said in a statement remembering her husband.
In 1970, then-governor Ronald Reagan appointed Phelps to the bench in Santa Clara County, first to municipal court and then to superior court. "Judge Phelps was highly respected for his courtroom demeanor, his intelligence, his productivity as a judge, and for his wisdom," his wife said in the statement.
Phelps retired from public service after 16 years and spent the next 20 years as a private judge handling trials and cases in need of arbitration and mediation.
Phelps' many club memberships included the Palo Alto Club, the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, the San Francisco Fly Casting Club, the Bohemian Club and the Olympic Club. He served on the boards of Castilleja School in Palo Alto and of Stanford University hospital.
Phelps is survived by his wife Jeanette; by sons Barton Phelps II and Patrick J. Boyd; and by an extended family that includes four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
The family asks that donations in his name be made to the Cardiac Therapy Foundation of the Mid Peninsula at 4000 Middlefield Road, Suite G-8, Palo Alto, 94303; or Church of the Nativity at 210 Oak Grove Ave., Menlo Park, 94025.
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