Elevated to High Court (From The Times, December 16th, 2014 By: John Andrew Prime)
In just under an hour and with equal doses of piety, humor, humility and zeal, Scott Crichton doffed the robes of a Caddo District Court judge and donned those of the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Elected without opposition in the fall elections, he was welcomed by his peers on the state’s loftiest bench and given a farewell by his fellow Caddo District Court brethren.
Hundreds thronged Caddo District Court’s second floor. Professionals from all walks of life — from fellow judges and elected officials including district attorneys and their staffs from the 11 parishes Crichton now serves, to private attorneys, doctors and accountants — filled not only the large and sumptuous courtroom, but also several surrounding courtrooms. Their galleries, jury boxes and even the dockets for the accused, were full.
And why not?
According to at least one speaker, it was only the third time in the Louisiana Supreme Court’s 201-year history that it has sat in Shreveport.
Crichton, 60, was sworn in by Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson, with the assistance of his wife of three decades, Susie. His robing, just moments later, was done by his sons Stuart and Samuel, who followed their father into the practice of law.
“I’ve never done this with help,” he quipped as his sons helped him into the raiments with an audible zipping noise.
But those were the formalities.
The depth of the moment was conveyed by Crichton in his remarks at the close of the ceremony, and through the humor and anecdotes of four friends he asked to speak before his life transformed from one affecting Caddo Parish to one affecting the entire state.
The most informal and off-the-cuff remarks were by Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator who, of course, told a lawyer joke.
Prator shared the story of a fine hunting dog named “Lawyer” that impressed everyone with the ability to smoke out game. But the next time people saw the hound, he just sat in the blind and barked.
“What happened?” someone asked.
“One of the hunters last year called him ‘Judge,’” Prator deadpanned as more than one courtroom erupted into laughter that was not gavelled down. “We hope you remember the lawyers you’ve worked with as you sit in the blind and bark.”
Judge James Stewart of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, whose early career paralleled that of Crichton as they served together, first as assistant district attorneys and then as judges at Caddo District Court, said during his 45 minutes sitting next to Prator the sheriff had been “trying to egg me on to turn this into a roast. But I decided I’d better stay on script.”
Crichton, Stewart said, “was like a pit bulldog when he locked onto a case, but I knew that before he locked his jaw tight to prosecute he always wanted to make sure justice was being served.”
Late in their work as prosecutors, Stewart served as Crichton’s supervisor.
“I always had comfort that I could turn him loose on the most serious and complicated cases and know that he would take care of it,” Stewart said.
Fellow Caddo District Court Judge Brady O’Callaghan began with humor as well, saying he planned to talk about something no one else would: “His phenomenal mustache grooming. No matter the time of day, rain or shine, it is always impeccable.”
But he cartwheeled immediately into serious talk about Crichton’s “unwavering dedication to the rule of law and the importance of every individual case being taken on its own merits.”
He noted that Crichten never became jaded or used to the daily parade of lawlessness, but still was able to feel outrage, so much in fact that “the word became his catchphrase, once appearing five times in three lines of a transcript.”
And, he noted, Crichton was unflappable, treating the accused with the dignity appropriate to the setting. Once, O’Callaghan recalled, Crichton found himself on an elevator with a criminal defendant.
“The defendant studied Scott carefully, then broke into a smile,” O’Callaghan said. “‘Hey judge, I didn’t recognize you without your cape!’”
Larry Pettiette, president of the Shreveport Bar Association, the first of the four speakers, pointed out three strong suits of Crichton’s that he thought would serve well on the state’s highest court.
He said what a hard worker Crichton was, illustrating with his attention to detail in writing opinions and moving his docket.
“This community, and this First Judicial District Court, are sending you someone who works very hard,” he told the high justices. “He possesses high energy, a prerequisite for your work load. He will do whatever it takes.”
He then recalled a case where Crichton had taken the time to deny a temporary restraining order when an elderly witness it would have affected and likely impoverished could not understand it when harassed by an arrogant attorney.
“We send to you, the Supreme Court of Louisiana, a judge who understands the rule of law and how important it is that people’s rights be protected,” Pettiette said. “He has a judge’s heart and will attempt to do what the law demands regardless of who is involved.”
He closed by noting, as did most of the speakers, Crichton’s ceaseless, untiring presentations to middle school and high school students to forestall criminality on such subjects as “Electronic Crimes: Sexting, Texting and Beyond” and “Don’t Let This Be You.” These give impressionable youngsters a look at what it is really like to be arrested and have to deal with the law.
“We reluctantly give you Judge Scott Crichton,” Pettiette concluded, “A resource we will sorely miss.”
For his part, in final remarks Crichton thanked the District Court he was departing, God and his parents, as well as his wife, for making him the man and the judge that he is today.
He especially thanked his parents, the late Thomas and Mary Crichton, for stressing the importance of education, which he said he took to heart.
“Our parents taught us that with education and hard work, anything was possible,” he said. “And it was that gift of education, including law school, that would make all the difference for a purpose-driven professional life of service in the law. Sadly, my parents would not live long enough to see me elected judge. They both died more than 25 years ago but with this commission and, in accordance with the 5th Commandment, I honor them today. Every day I strive to carry their lessons forward.”
He said in the two years since he felt the call to run for the state office, he’s had a chance to visit the 11 parish his seat serves, and has met with people the law touches every day.
“The law often deals in abstractions and hypothetical situations, but the decisions that judges and justices make about the law have great consequences for the people whose lives are affected,” he said. “I pledge to remember my renewed appreciation for the real and practical consequences of the decisions I help make as I assume this great honor.
“The Crichton family motto is ‘God Send Grace,’ and I have no doubt been blessed with abundant grace,” he said. “And I live by the scripture, ‘For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.’ Thus with this grace and blessings, including importantly, this position on the Supreme Court, comes obligation and responsibility to this state with dignity and honor.
“To my colleagues on the Caddo bench, you are among the best and I will miss you. To my new colleagues on the Supreme Court, I’m ready to go to work and face the challenges that lie ahead.”
Louisiana Supreme Court
Louisiana Supreme Court Associate Justice Scott Crichton serves Judicial District 2, which includes Caddo, Bossier, Webster, DeSoto, Natchitoches, Red River, Sabine, Vernon, Allen, Beauregard and Evangeline parishes.
Other judges on the state’s highest bench are Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson of the Seventh District, and associate justices Greg G. Guidry, First District; Jeannette Theriot Knoll, Third District; Marcus R. Clark, Fourth District; Jefferson D. Hughes III, Fifth District; and John L. Weimer, Sixth District. The Louisiana Supreme Court’s website is at http://www.lasc.org/