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History

In the early days of the Western District of Louisiana, a judge asked a witness to hold up his right hand to take the oath. "Can't do it, sir," answered the man. "Why not?" asked the judge. "Got shot in that arm, sir." "Then hold up your left," declared the judge. The man replied he had been shot in that arm too. "Then," said the judge sternly, "you must hold up your leg. No man can be sworn in this court without holding up something." (As quoted in Maude Hern O'Pry, Chronicles of Shreveport, p. 259.)

In those days, Louisiana was still a new territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase. By Act of March 26, 1804, Congress created a superior and lesser court having jurisdiction over the new territory. Provision also was made at the time for a federal court to be established in the Territory of Orleans, present day southern Louisiana. On April 12, 1812, Louisiana became a state and was established as a unified judicial district.

On May 3, 1823, however, the state was divided by Congress into separate judicial districts with the Western District having its headquarters at Opelousas. At the time, the district shared a judge with the Eastern District. Strangely, the districts were reunited for a while beginning in 1845, but were divided again four years later. After the Civil War, Louisiana again became a unified District until the Act of Congress of March 3, 1881, which established the present Western District of Louisiana. Today, the District has its headquarters in Shreveport.

A Colorful History

The first United States Attorney for the territory was James Brown who was appointed on March 11, 1805. Brown, married to the sister of Mrs. Henry Clay, began the practice of law in the State of Kentucky where he became Secretary of State in 1792. Brown later moved to the Territory of Orleans where he became Secretary of the Territory in 1804. In 1812, he served in the Louisiana constitutional convention, and won election as United States Senator in 1813. From 1823 to 1829, Brown served as the Minister to France.

John R. Grymes became United States Attorney in 1811, and reflected the colorful history of the Territory. One account of his life stated that he was involved in several duels and enjoyed elegant living with a taste for gambling. Grymes also served as personal counsel to Andrew Jackson during the Battle of Orleans.

Other noted former United States Attorneys for the Western District of Louisiana included Henry Boyce, an immigrant from Ireland. Boyce had become United States Attorney in March of 1849, but served only two months before President Taylor appointed him United States District Judge. Boyce's successor, Lawrence P. Crain, had served as mayor of Shreveport before his appointment as United States Attorney. Several of those who became United States Attorneys for the Western District had served as the City Attorney for the City of Shreveport, including George W. Jack, who was appointed in 1913. Four years later, Jack was named United States District Judge for the Western District of Louisiana.

Major General Andrew Jackson Indicted

Andrew Jackson

A very interesting case occurred during the tenure of United States Attorney John Dick in 1815. Just after the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, United States Attorney Dick indicted Major General Andrew Jackson on charges of obstruction of justice. Jackson also was charged with contempt of court. According to the indictment, Jackson had "...disrespectfully wrested from the clerk an original order of the honorable the judge of this court, for the issuing of a writ of habeas corpus in the case of a certain Louis Louallier, then imprisoned by the said Major General Andrew Jackson." Jackson incurred the charges of obstruction when he imprisoned the judge who had charged him with contempt. When the future President of the United States appeared in court, he refused to answer the interrogatories and promptly received a fine of $1,000 which he paid and then left the court. Leaving the courthouse, Jackson stopped and spoke to a large crowd that had gathered: I have during the invasion (of New Orleans) exerted every one of my faculties for the defense and preservation of the Constitution and the laws. On this day I have been called upon to submit to their operations, under circumstances which many persons might have thought sufficient to justify resistance Considering obedience to the laws, even when we think them unjustly applied, is the first duty of the citizen, and I do not hesitate to comply with the sentence you have heard pronounced; and I entreat you to remember the example I have given you of respectful submission to the administration of justice. (As quoted in Proceedings of the Louisiana Bar Association, 1898-1899, p. 120.)

Complete List of U.S. Attorneys

WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA

 

Alexander C. Van Hook

 

2017

 

Present

Stephanie A. Finley

2010

2017

William J. Flanagan

2010

2010

Donald W. Washington

2001

2010

William J. Flanagan

2000

2001

Michael D. Skinner

1993

2000

Joseph S. Cage, Jr.

1981

1993

J. Randell Keene

1979

1981

Edward L. Shaheen

1977

1979

Donald E. Walter

1969

1977

Edward L. Shaheen

1962

1969

Thomas F. Wilson

1953

1962

William J. Fleniken, Jr.

1950

1952

Harvey L. Carey

1950

 

William J. Fleniken, Sr.

1950

 

Malcolm E. Lafargue

1945

1950

Harvey G. Fields

1937

1945

Benjamin F. Roberts

1935

1937

Philip H. Mecom

1922

1935

Hugh C. Fisher

1921

1922

Yandell Boatner

1921

 

Joseph Moore

1917

1921

Robert A. Hunter

1917

 

George W. Jack

1913

1917

E. H. Randolph

1910

19131

Milton C. Elstner

1898

1910

Charles W. Seals

1893

1898

Milton C. Elstner

1889

1893

Montfort S. Jones

1885

1889

Milton C. Elstner

1881

1885

H. B. Talliaferro

1881

 

James R. Beckwith

1870

 

Leon D. Marks

1860

 

Floyd Walton

1856

1860

Claiborne C. Briscoe

1856

 

Peter Alexander

1854

1856

Joseph H. Kilpatrick

1853

1854

Lawrence P. Crain

1850

1853

Henry Boyce

1849

1850

Caleb L. Swayze

1842

1849

Henderson Taylor

1841

1842

Benjamin F. Linton

1830

1841

John Brownson

1823

1830

DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA

John W. Smith

1821

1823

John Dick

1814

1821

Tully Robinson

1814

 

John R. Grymes

1811

1814

Tully Robinson

1810

1811

Philip Grymes

1808

1810

James Brown

1805

1808

 

Updated March 17, 2017

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