Tracking Louisiana´s Legal Heritage:
 Celebrating 200 Years of the Federal Courts in Louisiana

District Judge John Dick

John Dick was the first federal judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Although he had one predecessor on the federal trail bench in Louisiana, that court, the Untied States District Court for the District of Louisiana, served the entire State. At the beginning of Judge Dick’s third year on the bench, Congress divided the federal trial court in Louisiana into the Eastern and Western Districts. Judge Dick was assigned to cover both districts, so that he has the distinction of being the first judge of both districts.

Judge Dick was born on an unknown date in 1788 in County Tyrone, Ireland. Judge Dick and some of his family members came to America in the first decade of the 1800s. Judge Dick “read law” in 1811, and then worked in private law practice in New Orleans from 1812 to1815. He was appointed United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana and served in that position from 1815 to 1821. As United States Attorney, at the age of only 27, “[f]ull of fervor and zeal, he is recorded by historians as having successfully prosecuted Andrew Jackson in 1815 (for contempt of court). In 1819, he obtained convictions for two of Jean Lafitte’s ‘lieutenants’ and a number of their men. He even went so far as to accuse . . . opposing counsel of ‘being seduced out of the path of honor and duty by the bloodstained gold of pirates.’ The two attorneys ended up fighting a duel. Both were wounded.”

In his personal life, Judge Dick married into two of the most prominent families of the Ante Bellum South. In 1820, he married Mary Farrar, whose family owned Laurel Hill Plantation near Natchez, Mississippi. Nine months later, Mary Farrar Dick contracted yellow fever, and she and her baby died in childbirth in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. “Despondent over his wife’s death, [Judge Dick] resigned his position as U.S. Attorney.” More than two years later, on August 16, 1823, he married Frances Ann Kenner of the well-known and prominent Kenner family, for whom a Louisiana city is named.

On March 2, 1821, he was nominated by President James Monroe to be United States District Judge for what was then the District of Louisiana. He was confirmed by the United States Senate and received his commission on that same day. Two years later, he was reassigned to be judge of both the Eastern and Western Districts of Louisiana when those separate courts were established by Congress.

Little is reported concerning significant cases over which Judge Dick may have presided while on the federal bench. In “A Review of Federal Courts of Louisiana” by W.S. Benedict published in the Proceedings of the Louisiana Bar Association, 1898-99, at p. 128, only two sentences are devoted to Judge Dick’s time on the bench: “During the regime of Judge Dick, the business of the Court continued more in a commercial line than under his predecessor, in matters pertaining to revenue and its incidents.” Judge Dick died of consumption on May 23, 1824, at the age of 36 while still in office.