Friends reflect on judge's life

By Philippe Djegal - email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - From the bench, he helped end segregation in Texas. Friends and colleagues are remembering William Wayne Justice, the U.S. District Judge who died Tuesday in Austin at the age of 89. Friends say it is only fitting that the man who did so much for people's rights carried the name, Justice.

Bold, brash and courageous is how friends describe him. In 1968, he was appointed U.S. District Judge in East Texas by President Johnson.

"It's not like Judge Justice got up one morning and changed the law," said Judge Judith Guthrie. "The law was there. He just laid it down."

And, he laid it down in this courtroom at the Federal Building in Tyler. He designed it himself. Judge Guthrie says she knew all about Justice before she met him. She studied his cases in law school.

"We just developed a really warm and loving relationship," said Guthrie. "He was kind of like a grandfather to me."

Justice would eventually swear-in Judge Guthrie when she was selected as a Magistrate Judge in Tyler.

"It would be hard to change all the opinions in Tyler about him by meeting everyone individually, but if he could have, they would have felt much more generous about him them they probably did," said Guthrie.

"There were a lot of people that, and I'm going to say the majority of the public, really disagreed with some of the decision he made," said Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith.

...decisions that addressed racial discrimination in schools and inhumane treatment in prisons. In 1970, he ordered the Texas Education Agency to begin desegregating the public schools. Two years later, he found that a prisoner was treated unfairly. His ruling led to an overhaul of the Texas prison system.

"And, when you're upheld by that conservative Court of Appeals...he was obviously making the right decisions," said Smith.

"You see, he's got a little bit of a grin on his face, but not a big smile," said Guthrie. "He had a very good sense of humor. He was kind and patient, and he loved America, and he's got that flag behind him, and he loved the law above all else, and that's the way I will remember him, and that what he was."

Services for Judge William Wayne Justice are set for Monday at St. David's Episcopal Church in Austin.

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