Judge Aucoin dies, special celebration ceremony planned
(Editor’s Note: The following was written by Judge Preston Aucoin, 76. He asked that we celebrate his life, so a special ceremony has been set for Thursday, November 6, at 11 a.m. at the Northside Civic Center in Ville Platte.
Aucoin died Thursday, October 30, at his home. He is survived by his wife, Linda Francois Aucoin; two sons, Gilbert J. Aucoin and Preston “Pokey” Aucoin Jr.; two daughters, “Toni” Aucoin and Jessica Freelander; one brother, Gilbert “Winky” Aucoin; one sister, Mary Alice Fontenot; and six grandchildren.)
Preston Aucoin, the most interesting, colorful, loquacious, distinct and sometimes controversial personality, left this world on Thursday, October 30, 2008.
He was born in the early morning hours of May 25, 1932, in the home of his grandparents, Jean and Alice Billeaudeau in L’anse Bourbeuse, his mother, Carrie B. Aucoin’s parents’, as was the custom in those days. (i.e. when her time was imminent she went to her mother’s home to give birth where she would receive tender, loving care.)
His father was Gilbert Aucoin. He was born during the Great Depression, a bad time in U.S. history when President Roosevelt spoke on the radio and told his listening audience that their greatest fear was fear itself (for the good that did).
He was raised in his parents’ home in Chataignier until the age of eight when his family moved to Ville Platte, but he spent a lot of time in L’anse Bourbeuse with his grandparents where the only language spoken was French. He began his education in the public school of Chataignier, completing the first and second grades. In Ville Platte, he attended and graduated from Sacred Heart High School in 1950.
He began college at SLI (now ULL) in Lafayette, but after the summer and fall semesters, left college, enlisting in the U.S. Air Force for four years when the Korean War broke out. He served about half of his time overseas in the Far East command in Asia and was stationed in Dover, Delaware, when he was discharged.
He resumed his studies at SLI on the GI Bill, married Linda Lea Francois of Eunice, and then was accepted to the LSU Law School in Baton Rouge and received his juris doctor degree in January of 1959. By this time, Ruby Antoinette (Toni) and Gilbert (Gilbeau) were born.
He returned to Ville Platte and began practicing law as a sole practitioner until he was elected judge in 1990. Two more children were born, namely Jessica Ann (Melinippe) and Preston Jr. (Pokey).
He became a vibrant, distinctive, vivacious, dynamic and animated country trial lawyer, well known throughout the southern parishes for his courtroom antics and accepting cases other lawyers would not touch, taking on the “Courthouse gang,” always representing the plaintiff, often the poor, down-trodden, oppressed and exploited. He styled himself as “l’avocat des pauvre (the lawyer for the poor but also had well-to-do clients). He lost a couple of races for district attorney, but this did not deter him. His practice grew by leaps and bounds.
He decided to run for district judge in 1990, although his friends warned him not to do so because he was too liberal and the people would not elect him. He disregarded their advice, ran anyway and was elected. He surprised a lot of people with his conservative tendencies on the bench and became known as the “hanging judge.”
His sentences when a defendant was convicted by a jury in criminal cases, particularly the violent crimes - murder, manslaughter, rape and also for robberies, burglaries and drug offenses - were indeed severe. He was sometimes called “Maximum Pres.”
In connection with his draconian ( exceedingly harsh) sentences, he issued lengthy written reasons. He said the law is a prescription for order. Many of his sentencings were picked up by the press (KVPI, Gazette, Daily World, Morning Advocate and the Alexandria Town Talk) and were sometimes reproduced verbatim, often making headlines.
He came down hard on game violators and won the approval of the Wildlife and Fisheries Department.
When told by some that he did not respect the rights of the convicted felons and their families and had punished them severely and without mercy, he replied “What about the rights of the victims (often dead, seriously injured or mentally scarred like rape victims) and their families?”
He ran for re-election and his friends and supporters feared that his extreme conservatism in criminal cases might defeat him. He kept right on, imposing his stiff sentences, saying that there were more good people than bad ones and they wanted the criminals punished.
When the votes were counted on election night, he won by a landslide. He simply said “The people have spoken.”
During his second term, he ruled in one of the most sensational high profile cases in the State of Louisiana, known as the “18-year-old drinking law case,” that the law prohibiting 18, 19 and 20-year-olds from drinking was unconstitutional, null and void. The TV and radio stations blared out the news; all of the state’s major newspapers carried it as headlines on their front pages.
He was cursed and praised. One TV station accused him of owning an interest in the Jungle Club.
The truth of the matter is he was a teetotaler (a sin in Evangeline Parish he joked), against drinking and did not touch a drop of liquor. He rationalized both the federal and state governments recognized 18-year-olds as adults, giving them the right to fight for their country, vote , run for public office, etc. If they could fight and die in a fox hole defending their country, they could drink.
He further stated he disagreed with the constitutional provision making 18-year-olds adults but he was not the one who wrote the constitution.
He further stated he was against drinking period. He criticized the constitutional convention that wrote and passed the state constitution in 1975.
The case went before the State Supreme Court. It was affirmed the first time around. Then the supreme court shocked the legal community and the entire state by granting a rehearing and reversing itself. Still today, a multitude of legal scholars and professors agree with Aucoin’s ruling.
On the other side of his life, the non-legal one, as a civilian, he was a voracious reader and had read the histories of Ancient Rome, Greece and the Jews.
He could discuss the virtues and vices of each of the Roman Emperors. He quoted several of them, for example, the Emperor Augustus saying “let us hasten slowly” as he led his troops. He reminded us that Rome’s greatest contribution was “La Pax Romano: (the Roman Peace which was occasioned by its laws.) He spoke of the Emperor Justinian, the lawgiver. He praised Napoleon for his civil code which became the basis for Louisiana’s civil code.
But he excelled as being a local historian, being familiar with and explaining the history of the division of the Imperial Parish (St. Landry Parish) in 1910 and the creation and birth of Evangeline Parish.
His bi-weekly column “La Politique” published in The Gazette was widely read and his bi-weekly radio programs on KVPI drew listeners not only from Ville Platte but from Mamou, Eunice, Opelousas, Grand Prairie, Lafayette and other places.
He loved to speak French, spoke it well and was territorial, favoring the southern parishes, particularly ours.
He often referred to himself as a Mediterranean Man and the last Renaissance man of Evangeline Parish. Maybe he was.
He will be missed by all who knew him.