By: Bob Holeman
Jacque Derr retired Dec. 31, 2020, after serving 12 years as Judge of the Eighth Judicial District Court in Winn. But due to COVID protocol, there was no celebration, no sendoff. That delayed event would come six months later when on Friday, July 16, the retired judge was finally able to hang his portrait on the courtroom wall together with the judges who preceded him.
Those portraits belong to Cas Moss, Robert W. Oglesby, Harwell L. Allen, Hiram T. Wright, Douglas H. Allen and Jim W. Wiley.
One morning earlier in the week, I enjoyed a cup of coffee and a fig muffin served to me by Laure, his wife of nearly 51 years, at their breakfast table. Jacque sat at his chair of honor at the table’s head. No black robe. Just casual clothes and an LSU cap firmly and proudly atop his head throughout the interview.
In his familiar gravelly voice, he tells me he was born in Ruston on Oct. 24, 1947, the first child of John Chester Derr and Elinor Anne Love Derr. The couple met at Kilgore College in Texas where Anne was one of the famed Kilgore Rangerettes and Chester had recently returned from World War II where he had flown as a radio operator for Army Air Corps.
Chester used his GI Bill to attend Louisiana Polytechnic Institute, graduating with a degree in forestry and working briefly in the forestry industry before an opportunity opened up at the Winn Parish Enterprise. Anne was a niece to the Riser family. At the age of 5, Jacque moved to Winnfield.
In 1965, Jacque was part of the first graduating class of the new Winnfield Senior High School. His path to law school took a little turn when he initially enrolled in the Air Force Academy Preparatory School. But by fall of that same year, he decided on his new course and resigned. He enrolled at his father’s alma mater, Louisiana Polytechnic Institute, receiving his BS degree in Business Administration in 1970, the same year the school officially changed its names to Louisiana Tech University.
July 25 that year was also significant when Laure Spatafora of Monroe whom Jacque had been dating since fall 1967 became his wife.
Jacque entered Law School at LSU that fall and was graduated October 1973.
During his college years, Jacque was in the Air Force Reserve and received an educational delay because of his studies. “I was supposed to be a pilot but the war in Vietnam was winding down and they didn’t need pilots. So, I ended up at Barksdale AFB as a JAG (Judge Advocate General) officer to fulfill my obligation to the Air Force. I remained there until January 1974 and was Captain when I received my honorable discharge.”
He was able to hang out his law shingle a month later when they moved back to Winnfield, and he went into partnership with Kermit M. Simmons. “I continued 28 years, with a general office practice specializing in real estate and business transactions.”
In 1996, Jacque was elected Winnfield City Judge, following Jim Wiley who had been elected District Judge. In 2008, he was elected District Judge, again following Jim Wiley who had retired.
One of the legacies that Jacque left for his successor, Anastasia Wiley, was a backlog of criminal cases due to the COVID shutdowns of 2020. “We were ordered by the Supreme Court not to have court. I was not allowed to fashion my own safety plan which I could have done easily due to the few numbers of cases that normally come before my court. Jury trials were prohibited. The Supreme Court gradually eased restrictions but those were not totally lifted by the time I retired.”
Jacque was 73 when he retired. The state constitution prohibits anyone running for a judgeship after the age of 70. When Jacque took office for his final term in 2017, he had not reached that benchmark. “Even without that law, I would not have run again this time anyway.”
While Jacque was practicing law, Laure was teaching school and rearing a family. She taught for 30 years as a fulltime teacher and another 15 as an interventionist, helping students who are having problems in classrooms.
They are active members of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Winnfield.
The Derrs have three children: Jean Anne Bushong, a CPA; Jamie Lynn Gonzales, an RN; and Jacque D. Derr Jr., a PT and OT. They have six grandchildren: Laura Bushong, Mia Gonzales, Cole Derr, Sean Derr, Lainey Derr and Cooper Derr.
I’d wrapped up the essence of my interview and thought to add an anecdote or two to lighten the feature’s tone. Jacque and Laure shared some thoughts for the next 20 minutes or so while I took notes. Jacque chuckled over several. I put down my pen and drank the last of my coffee, now cold. As I later wrote this feature, I saw it was long enough, so any other tales died on my notepad.
However, as I prepared to leave the breakfast room, Laure made a final observation and I picked up my pen once more.
“The focus,” said the longtime educator, “should be on little kids. You see, Jacque came from a modest background. A hard-working Christian family. And he accomplished so much. The message to children is that you can do anything you want if you’ll work for it. ‘Firm but Fair,’ that was Jacques’ motto.”
Pictured above: The Winn Parish courtroom was filled with friends and courthouse associates Friday, July 16, for a retirement celebration for District Judge Jacque Derr. While Derr retired at the close of 2020, the reception was postponed some six months due to COVID protocol. Family members able to attend are shown with the retired judge. From left are wife Laure, grandson Cole Derr and son Jacque Derr Jr.