64 Parishes

Walter B. Hamlin

Walter B. Hamlin served as the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court for one year, from 1972 to 1973.

Walter B. Hamlin

Courtesy of The Law Library of Louisiana

Walter B. Hamlin. Parker, John Clay (Artist)

Talter Bergen Hamlin was the sixteenth chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. He was automatically promoted to the position after fourteen years on the high bench but served only a short time as its lead jurist from December 26, 1972, to March 13, 1973. Hamlin served only three months—the shortest term of any chief justice—before he reached the mandatory retirement age of seventy-five. He was the first graduate of the law school at Loyola University to attain the office of chief justice, and the university bestowed on him an honorary doctorate of laws degree in 1969.

Hamlin was born in New Orleans on March 13, 1898, to Charles H. Hamlin and Henrietta M. Bergen. He was educated in the public schools of New Orleans and attended Soulé College, a business school in New Orleans that opened in 1856. He entered the law school at Loyola University of the South in 1916, earning a bachelor of laws degree in 1919 and gaining admission to the bar that same year. Hamlin also served in the military as a sergeant in the infantry during World War I. He later joined the naval reserve and served during World War II as a lieutenant commander. He married Stella I. Malynn on April 3, 1923. They had no children.

From 1919 until 1948, Hamlin practiced law in partnership with Bernard J. Daly under the firm name of Daly & Hamlin. To fill an unexpired term, he was elected judge of Division B of the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans in April 1948. Hamlin was reelected without opposition to a full term on that court in 1952. In 1958 he was elected an associate justice of the Supreme Court to fill the unexpired term of Harold A. Moise; he was reelected without opposition in 1966. On December 26, 1972, Hamlin became chief justice, based on seniority, after the retirement of Chief Justice E. Howard McCaleb.

Hamlin documented the history of the courts in Orleans Parish in two booklets: A History of the Courts in the Parish of Orleans (1950) and The Courts of New Orleans, Their Past and Present Locations (1961). He wrote continuations of The History of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, published in Louisiana Reports, volumes 222 and 245. He worked to improve court rules and procedure at the Civil District Court and published A Manual of Every-day Procedure in the Civil District Court (1952) to guide new attorneys appearing before the court. His booklet, Techniques of and Style in Judicial Writing (1962), encouraged judges to adopt a clear and consistent style of opinion writing. His colleagues remembered the kindness he showed as he provided guidance to younger members of the bench and bar.

Active in several civic organizations, Hamlin was also well known as a speaker on patriotic, legal, historical, and literary topics. He enjoyed appearing in Le Petit Theatre productions in the French Quarter, and Hamlin had a cameo role—along with Mayor Victor Schiro and the police superintendent—in New Orleans Uncensored, a 1955 potboiler film depicting organized crime controlling the city’s docks. He died on January 1, 1984, and is interred at Hope Mausoleum in New Orleans.