John B. Fournet
John B. Fournet served as the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1949 to 1970.
John Baptiste Fournet was the only person in Louisiana history to hold the highest positions in all three branches of government, including speaker of the House, president of the Senate, acting governor, and chief justice of the Supreme Court. His overall tenure on the court, of which he was the thirteenth chief justice, from January 2, 1935, to July 31, 1970, was the longest of any justice at thirty-five years and 211 days. A close associate of Huey P. Long, Fournet is also remembered for blocking a gubernatorial impeachment attempt against Long in 1929 and for being in the state capitol when Long was assassinated in 1935.
Born on July 27, 1895, in St. Martinville, Louisiana, Fournet was the son of Louis Michel Fournet and Marcelite Gauthier. He was descended from early French settlers in southwest Louisiana; among his ancestors were several state officials and judges, including his great uncle, Associate Justice Alcibiades DeBlanc (1877–1880). He received a public school education and graduated from St. Martinville High School in 1913. Fournet began a career as a teacher, earned a degree from Louisiana State Normal College in Natchitoches, and became the principal of Morganza High School by the age of twenty-one. After military service during World War I, he enrolled at Louisiana State University, where he gained renown on the football field and as president of his law school class. In 1920, Fournet completed his bachelor of laws degree and was admitted to the bar. He practiced law in Jennings, Louisiana, after marrying Rose Dupuis in 1921. They were the parents of two children. His second marriage was to his cousin, Sylvia Fournet, in 1953.
In 1928, Fournet’s lengthy public career began with his election to the Louisiana House of Representatives from Jefferson Davis Parish. On his first day of office, he was elected speaker, a position he held until his election in 1932 as lieutenant governor on the ticket with Oscar K. “OK” Allen. In 1935, Fournet was elected an associate justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, and he served in that capacity until 1949, when he succeeded Charles O’Niell as chief justice.
Lack of judicial experience did not deter Fournet in his efforts as chief justice to make significant changes to court administration in Louisiana. He is credited with establishing the Louisiana Judicial Council and the office of judicial administrator to carry out the work of the council. Under his guidance, the appellate court system was reorganized and enlarged to alleviate the overcrowded Supreme Court docket. Fournet also achieved improvements in civil and criminal procedure, both through his jurisprudence and through his advocacy for the adoption of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure in 1960. Fournet’s feisty nature erupted in a fistfight with Associate Justice Walter B. Hamlin when both men were in their sixties. Fournet’s apology quickly resolved the private matter.
Fournet retired from judicial service on July 31, 1970, at the constitutionally mandated age of seventy-five. He and his wife moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1978, and he died there on June 3, 1984. He is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery in St. Martinville.