Judge Henry L. Yelverton, a Calcasieu Parish public official for more than 42 years, died Friday, July 31, 2009, in Lake Charles at age 81. He is survived by his beloved wife of 56 years, Lorraine; seven children; 15 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Judge Yelverton was a happy man, ever conscious of the fact that his life was filled with blessings. He loved many things in this world, the sunshine and the rain, his children and his grandchildren, his law books, poetry, the state of Louisiana, his robe and his work. But what he loved most above all other things in this world was Lorraine Yelverton. Judge Yelverton was born June 5, 1928, near Sikes in Winn Parish. He grew up on a small cotton farm in the Parish of West Carroll. Lake Charles has been his home since 1957 and throughout his professional career. Judge Yelverton grew up in a poor but happy home. His mother, Iona Gates, and stepfather, J.K. Roberts, sharecropped until 1938, when they bought 40 acres of woodland on the Macon Ridge in the northeast corner of Louisiana, built a small frame house on it, and cleared it for farming. Growing cotton was the source of his family income during the years of the Great Depression. His four years of high school coincided with the four years of World War II. A product of what has been called "The Greatest Generation," as a young man Judge Yelverton was taught to love his country deeply and to be loyal to things and people dear to him. Loyalty was one of his virtues. An example was his lifelong closeness to his high school classmates; they held a class reunion every year since their high school graduation in 1945. Judge Yelverton entered LSU in 1945. With tuition paid by a scholarship, his college financial requirements were limited to lodging and food. Both needs were met when he was allowed to live on the LSU poultry farm, and given a part-time job there paying a minimum wage. Following the advice of his high school English teacher to take some Latin courses in college, he did so and became so infatuated with that ancient language and what he could learn by reading it that he majored in the subject, taking every Latin course LSU offered, reading in their own words the military histories of Julius Caesar, Livy and Tacitus, the epic poetry of Virgil, and the orations of the great lawyer, Cicero. His curriculum at LSU also included four years of military training in the Reserve Officers Training Corps. In 1949, he graduated from LSU with a liberal arts degree in Latin and a commission in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He then taught Latin at Sewanee Military Academy in Tennessee. He served also as the boxing coach at Sewanee and took his team to the Tennessee State Prep School championship in 1951. When Tulane University offered him its Judah Touro Fellowship in Classical Languages, he accepted and did graduate studies there, taking every graduate-level Latin course that Tulane offered. He also taught Latin at St. Martin's Episcopal School in Metairie. On Valentine's Day 1953, Judge Yelverton married the love of his life, Lorraine LeJeune of Addis. When he was called to active duty by the Air Force, she went with him while he served two years as an intelligence officer with the Strategic Air Command. Clark, the first of their seven children, was born on an Air Force base in Spokane, Wash., in 1954. After his tour of duty with the Air Force ended, they returned to Baton Rouge where he enrolled in the LSU law school in 1955. There, their second son, Scott, was born. While in law school, he worked for state Sen. J.D. DeBlieux in the Louisiana Senate and learned some valuable lessons in Louisiana politics. Among those lessons was that politics can be an honorable way to make a living, a fact demonstrated to him time and again by his then-boss and mentor, Sen. DeBlieux, whose honesty and morality in public life were legendary and are still remembered in the Louisiana Legislature. In his last year in law school Yelverton received the school's Allen Barksdale award in recognition of his scholastic accomplishments. Upon graduation from law school in 1957, Judge Yelverton and Lorraine and their young family moved to Lake Charles where he began the practice of law with the firm Camp, Palmer, Yelverton & Carwile. Part of his work with his firm was the handling of government disaster loans following Hurricane Audrey, and in that service he got to know many Cameron Parish residents. His respect and admiration for the people of southwest Louisiana began with that experience and remained with him throughout his life. He entered public service in 1961 as first assistant district attorney for the 14th Judicial District. For the next decade he was the attorney for the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury and School Board, the Airport Authority, and several other public bodies, handling their litigation in court as well as their other legal affairs. In 1971, he was appointed district judge by Gov. John J. McKeithen, and thus began his long tenure on the bench. During the 32 years he served as a judge on the trial and appellate courts of this state, he was opposed for election only once. That was in 1972, one year after his appointment by the governor, when he sought his first full term. After winning that election easily, he was re-elected continuously without opposition. During his service on the 14th Judicial District Court, Judge Yelverton was the Chief Judge. He was a hard worker. He believed that a judge should set the example of being on time for court. He was an ardent advocate for reducing judicial delays. At the conclusion of his 11-year tenure on the District Court, he was recognized by the Supreme Court Judicial Administrator for his unfailing promptness in deciding his cases. He also brought about several innovations in the District Court. One system change was taking up criminal plea bargains in open court rather than in chambers. Another was the establishment of the jury pool system to speed up the selection of trial juries. In 1975, the Supreme Court appointed him to serve for a period of time on a higher court, the Court of Appeal, 1st Circuit, sitting in Baton Rouge, to help alleviate the docket in that court. In 1982, he announced his intention to seek a higher judicial office in the Court of Appeal, 3rd Circuit. Elected to this post without opposition, he remained a judge of the appeals court for more than 20 years, exercising jurisdiction over 21 parishes in central and southwestern Louisiana. During his tenure on the appellate bench, he sat on many occasions on the state's highest tribunal, the Louisiana Supreme Court. He retired from the bench at what was then the mandatory age of 75. The day after his retirement, he went to work for the 3rd Circuit as a part-time law clerk, continuing his love of the law until his final retirement at age 80 due to illness. His tenure on the appellate court was characterized by his zeal for promptness in judicial decision-making. He was a firm believer in the adage that justice delayed was often justice denied. In 1989, he persuaded his fellow judges to adopt a new docket for the summary disposition of certain cases, a plan which successfully reduced the backlog to an all-time low figure and made the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal a model court among the intermediate appellate courts of the state, a distinction it still maintains. During his 32 years of judicial service, Judge Yelverton served in numerous capacities to improve the administration of the law. He was a founding member of the Criminal Benchbook Committee which wrote the criminal benchbook now in use in the trial courts. For several years he chaired the Uniform Rules Committee of the Louisiana Appellate Judges Conference. After his retirement, he wrote "Handbook of Louisiana Court of Appeal, Third Circuit, Procedure," a book for the use of young lawyers on the subjects of how to take an appeal and apply to the court's supervisory jurisdiction. He was a member
Published in The Advocate on Aug. 2, 2009.