John B. Fournet

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John Baptiste Fournet

Louisiana State Representative
for St. Martin Parish
Preceded by J. H. Heinen
Succeeded by John T. Hood

Speaker of the
Louisiana House of Representatives
In office
1928–1932
Preceded by William Clark Hughes
Succeeded by Allen J. Ellender

35th Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
In office
1932–1935
Governor Oscar Kelly Allen
Preceded by Alvin O. King
Succeeded by Thomas C. Wingate

Associate Justice of the
Louisiana Supreme Court
In office
1935–1949

Chief Justice, Louisiana Supreme Court
In office
1949–1970

Born July 27, 1895
St. Martinville, St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died June 3, 1984 (aged 88)
Jackson, Hinds County
Mississippi
Resting place Fournet Cemetery in St. Martinville, Louisiana
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) (1) Rose M. Dupuis Fornet (married 1921, divorced)

Two children
(2) Sylva Ann Fournet
Parents:
Louis Michel and Marcelite Gauthier Fournet

Occupation Attorney, Educator

John Baptiste Fournet (July 27, 1895 – June 3, 1984) was a Louisiana state representative and House Speaker, lieutenant governor (1932–1935), and associate justice (1935–1949) and Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court (1949–1970). He was an original backer of Governor and United States Senator Huey Pierce Long, Jr.

Background

Fournet was the oldest of ten children born to Louis Michel Fournet, a wealthy sugar planter, and the former Marcelite Gauthier in Martinsville in St. Martin Parish in south Louisiana. He attended public schools in St. Martin Parish, and in 1913, he became a teacher in a one-room rural schoolhouse in southwestern Louisiana. In 1915, he graduated with honors from Northwestern State University (then Louisiana State Normal College) in Natchitoches and returned to his teaching career. He taught in Vernon, Jefferson Davis, and Pointe Coupee parishes. At the age of twenty, he was already the principal of Morganza High School in the village of Morganza in Pointe Coupee Parish.

During World War I, Fournet was a private in the United States Army at Camp Martin in Louisiana and then Camp Hancock in Georgia but was not assigned outside the country.

In 1920, he received his law degree from Louisiana State University Law School in Baton Rouge. He was president of his law school class and excelled in football while at LSU. After graduation, he returned to St. Martinville to practice law. There on February 1, 1921, he married his first wife, the former Rose M. Dupuis of Breaux Bridge, with whom he had two children. They were subsequently divorced. He later practiced law in Baton Rouge and then Jennings in Jefferson Davis Parish in southwestern Louisiana.

Huey Long defender

Fournet was elected to the state House in 1928 from Jefferson Davis Parish and though a freshman member was tapped by Huey Long as Speaker of the House. In that role, he tried to prevent the House from impeaching Long in 1929 by recognizing a questionable call for adjournment.[1] In the dispute, Fournet particularly clashed with conservative state Representative Cecil Morgan, Sr. (1898-1999) of Shreveport, one of the leaders in the impeachment of Long. Morgan and Fournet were thereafter estranged for fifty years butreconciled not long before Fournet's death.

Nevertheless, eight articles of impeachment were subsequently approved by the House but blocked by the "Round Robin" petition signed by the critical fifteen of the thirty-nine Louisiana state senators. In 1930, Long went on the floor of the Louisiana House to lobby successfully against an anti-Long effort to unseat Fournet as Speaker.

Lieutenant governor

Fournet was elected lieutenant governor within the Democratic primary on the Long-backed ticket led by Oscar Kelly Allen(1882-1936) of Winnfield, considered a "yes-man" to Huey Long. Ironically, his chief party rival was Earl Kemp Long, whom Huey Long refused to support. Most Long family members, however, generally rallied behind Earl Long, who would thereafter be elected lieutenant governor in the 1936 Democratic primary.

Fournet's elected predecessor was Paul Cyr, a dentist from Jeanerette in Iberia Parish. Long succeeded in removing his rival Cyr from the lieutenant governorship in 1931 and replacing him with Alvin Olin King (1890-1958) of Lake Charles, a Long loyalist from Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana.

Election to the Louisiana Supreme Court

Fournet did not complete his term as lieutenant governor because he won a special election to the New Orleans-based state Supreme Court in the fall of 1934. Long, using sound trucks, campaigned personally for Fournet. He became an associate justice on January 2, 1935, and chief justice in 1949. He retired by constitutional mandate in 1970 at the age of seventy-five. He was also a former member of the prestigious LSU Board of Supervisors.

In May 1952, Fournet administered the gubernatorial oath to the anti-Long Governor Robert F. Kennon, who defeated the Long factional choice, Judge Carlos Gustve Spaht, Sr. (1906-2001) earlier that year.[2]

Administration of justice

On the court, Fournet abandoned partisanship and dedicated himself to improving the administration of justice. He spearheaded the reorganization of the appellate court system. When he became chief justice, the dockets of most courts in Louisiana had a heavy backlog. He created the Louisiana Judicial Council and established the position of judicial administrator to implement the work of the council. When court reorganization did not occur through a state constitutional convention, Fournet restructured the appellate court system. He used constitutional amendments that moved much of the jurisdiction of the Louisiana Supreme Court to a larger system of intermediary courts of appeal. This allowed the Supreme Court to concentrate on cases of greater importance. The additional appellate judgeships also reduced the court congestion.

During his court tenure, Fournet participated in some 17,500 cases and wrote 1,239 opinions. Of these, 1,043 were majority opinions. Of the 525 rehearings sought from his opinions, only 19 obtained a rehearing. Of those, just seven were reversed. Of his majority opinions, only forty-one were appealed to the United States Supreme Court; nine were granted, and four were reversed.

Major Fournet cases

Major Fournet cases included the following:

Kennedy v. Item Company (1948) — freedom of press does not include the right to maliciously defame a person's reputation

State v. Bentley (1951) — safeguarded Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination

State v. Pete (1944) — upheld constitutionality of Louisiana Criminal Code

State v. Bessar (1948) — defined scope and applicability of felony-murder doctrine

State v. Hightower (1960) — upheld constitutionality of the drunk driving provision of the criminal code

State v. Smith (1968) — reaffirmed the validity of the definition of public bribery.

Fournet's decisions strengthened criminal and civil procedure in Louisiana. He introduced a simplified form of indictment in criminal matters and reduced technicalities in matters of civil procedure. In Voisin v. Luke (1966) he wrote that the procedural rules of the civil code were intended to promote the administration of justice, not to allow "entrapment . . . of a litigant" so as to discourage the accused from pursuing a trial on the merits.

In 1941, Justice Fournet wrote a scholarly decision in Succession of Lissa in which he claimed that the sources of Louisiana law date to the Twelve Tables of the Romans, the Institutes of Gaius, the Justinian Code, and the Code Napoleon.

Fournet's death

In 1953, Justice Fournet again married, this time to a cousin, Sylvia Ann Fournet. He died at the age of eighty-eight in the capital city of Jackson, Mississippi, where he had retired in 1978. He is interred in Fournet Cemetery in St. Martinville. His papers are in the LSU Archives.

On February 1, 2014, Fournet was posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[3]

References

  1. Harnett Kane. Huey Long's Louisiana Hayride: The American Rehearsal for Dictatorship, 1928-1940, pp. 70-71. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company (1941 and 1998). Retrieved on July 2, 2013. 
  2. Minden Herald, May 16, 1952, p. 1.
  3. Who's famous?, October 2, 2013. The Bossier Press-Tribune. Retrieved on October 2, 2013.
  • "John B. Fourne,t" Who's Who in America," 1938.
  • Richard D. White, Jr., Kingfish, New York: Random House, 2006, p. 40, 67-670, 84, 100, 105, 136, 139, 141, 200, 211, 252, 263, 265, 267-268, 276, 288.
  • "John Baptiste Fournet," American National Biography, edited by John A. Garraty and Marc C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 317–318.
  • "John B. Fournet," Biographies of Louisiana Judges (1977), p. 147–150.
  • Louisiana Reports 256 (1971): p. 5-27 (Tributes to Judge Fournet from colleagues).
  • T. Harry Williams, Huey Long: A Biography (1969).
  • Fournet obituary, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 4, 1984.