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Judicial Profile: Judge Stanwood R. Duval, Jr.

Do you want to wear it?” he would ask, gesturing to his black robe.  Of course, he only asked in jest; it might appear to be just a robe, after all.  But for Judge Stanwood R. Duval, Jr., that robe represented much more: a position to be respected, with immense responsibility, and, above all, a position of service. To Duval, if a judge believes he deserves to wear the robe, then the opposite is true. This philosophy imbued his tenure, earning him a reputation for even-handedness, intellect, and practicality among members of the bar.

To those who know him, Duval is a true study in contrasts. An avid sportsman, he fishes near his camp in Grand Isle and hunts duck in Louisiana marshes, yet he also steadfastly supports the New Orleans arts and theater community. He is a sesquipedalian, slipping words like “phantasmagorical,” “ebullient,” or “perspicacious” into his everyday vernacular, yet has a down-to-earth (and often self-deprecating) sense of humor—and a fondness for pranks.

Duval readily accredits his parents with instilling in him such balance. Raised in Houma, Louisiana, Duval’s childhood was bucolic but refined, too, peppered by his mother’s wit and his father’s wisdom. Following in the footsteps of his uncle Claude Duval, a former state senator and attorney, Duval chose to study law and earned his Bachelor of the Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees through a combined curriculum at Louisiana State University.

After graduating from law school in 1966, he began his career at Duval, Arceneaux & Lewis, working with Claude Duval and George Arceneaux, who would proceed Duval on the bench of the Eastern District of Louisiana, and eventually becoming a senior partner of Duval, Funderburk, Sundbery, and Lovell, LP in Houma, having developed a varied, litigation-intensive practice. During that time, he also served as an Assistant City Attorney, Terrebonne Parish Attorney, and a member of the Indigent Defender Board.  And, at only 31, Duval served as a delegate to the 1973 Louisiana Constitutional Convention, where he served on committees for rules of procedure and for the executive branch.    

Duval continued to practice until appointed to the federal bench by Bill Clinton and sworn in on October 31, 1994 as a judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana, becoming the fourth Duval in the family tree to become a federal judge. After taking the bench, Duval presided over a number of notable cases raising issues such as: whether the monks of St. Joseph Abbey should be allowed to sell wooden caskets; whether the New Orleans District Attorney intentionally discriminated against 56 employees when he terminated them; whether FEMA could terminate a statutorily required lodging program affecting Hurricane Katrina evacuees; and whether criminal charges against B.P. personnel arising out of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe should be dismissed. Most significantly, Duval presided over the litigation arising out of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levee system. Like the levee breaches themselves, claims arising from the breaches poured into the District Court. But Duval consolidated over 1,200 cases comprised of hundreds of thousands of claims and systematically adjudicated the lawsuits.

During his service on the federal bench, Duval’s service extended beyond cases allotted to Section “K.” Among other things, he was a member of the Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules to the Judicial Conference of the United States Courts from 1997 to 2003, the Council of the Louisiana Law Institute from 1996 to 2000, and the Fifth Circuit Judicial Council from 2004 to 2007. He has served as a president of the Tulane Inns of Court and a volunteer teacher at the Alternative High School for At Risk Students; he currently serves as a member and former chair of the Board of Directors of Covenant House and also as a recently-elected board member on the board of KIPP Public Charter Schools in New Orleans.

Though actively involved in the judiciary and community, Duval never forgot that he was, first, a lawyer. In his courtroom, Judge Duval treated lawyers and litigants with respect and received the same in return. Practicing attorneys held Duval in high regard, commenting in reviews that he is “extremely bright” and enjoys “lively debate” but “runs an excellent courtroom” and skillfully cuts through complex litigation. The legal and academic community formally recognized Judge Duval’s accomplishments as well. He was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award in 2013 by the LSU Law Center; the James J. Buquet, Jr. Award of Distinction in 2014 by the Terrebonne Foundation for Academic Excellence; the Good Apple Award for Social Justice in 2017 by Louisiana Appleseed Foundation; and the [Award] by the New Orleans chapter of the Federal Bar Association in 2017.

Behind the scenes, Duval welcomed visitors into his chambers. Around Duval’s chambers were reminders of home: photos of his father (an Iwo Jima veteran) featured on a credenza, with photos of his wife, children, and grandchild encircling his office. And he treated his clerks, judicial assistants, and courtroom deputies like a second family. Lunch was a daily family dinner of sorts, with former clerks often returning for a mid-day visit. Judge Duval engages easily in conversation as well as in debate – most often with his clerks; as his clerks can attest, no decision was made without Duval’s thorough examination, research, and debate of every legal argument before him.  

But, as one of Duval’s judicial colleagues put it, of the many decisions he has made, perhaps his most important and wisest decision was marrying his wife, Janet Daley. During his tenure, Janet served as Duval’s permanent law clerk and was responsible for the support on all Katrina matters, making the Sisyphean task manageable.

After nearly 22 years of service to the federal bench, Judge Duval decided to retire and rejoin the practice of law, effective as of January 31, 2017. With former Magistrate Judge Shushan, Judge Duval and Shushan have formed Duval Shushan Legal Resources, offering mediation and arbitration services. Janet also joined the group, continuing her work with Duval.

Though he has retired the robe, Duval has left a long-lasting impression on members of the federal bench and bar. Duval’s legacy of thoughtful and intellectual reasoning balanced with practicality will serve as a continual source of inspiration for every judge who dons the robe and for those who practice before them.