Federal judge Frank Polozola dies

Advocate file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLINGU.S. District Court Judge Frank Polozola at a Black History Month program at Baton Rouge federal court. He died Monday after a long bout with cancer.
Advocate file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLINGU.S. District Court Judge Frank Polozola at a Black History Month program at Baton Rouge federal court. He died Monday after a long bout with cancer.

U.S. District Court Judge Frank J. Polozola, who presided over former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards’ corruption trial in 2000, died Sunday night after fighting a long bout with cancer, the chief judge from the U.S. Middle District of Louisiana said Monday.

Polozola was 71.

“Sadly, Judge Polozola passed away around 11 o’clock last night,” Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson said. “He had been fighting cancer for a long time.

“He meant a lot to everyone here at the courthouse and he will be missed greatly,” Jackson said.

The family did not want any more details about the illness to be released, the chief judge said.

Polozola had been serving as a U.S. district judge for the Baton Rouge-based Middle District of Louisiana after his confirmation by the U.S. Senate in May 1980, according to biographical information provided by the district.

Polozola served as the district’s chief judge from 1998 to 2005. He assumed senior status in 2007, meaning he began handling fewer cases.

Polozola presided over several high-profile cases, most notably Edwards’ riverboat gambling corruption trial.

Edwards was convicted in May 2000 and sentenced by Polozola in January 2001 to 10 years in federal prison. Edwards appealed the case but eventually began serving his term in October 2002 before being released in 2011.

Polozola also presided over former LSU football star and Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon’s counterfeiting case in 1983 in which Cannon pleaded guilty and served time in federal prison.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who served as a law clerk for Polozola, said Monday that while the judge did hear many notorious cases, the manner in which he handled himself in lesser cases showed his true worth.

“Those whose names are now forgotten, when they were before him, it was those moments I think that his star really shone the brightest,” Dardenne said.

Dardenne said Polozola was a trusted mentor and remained a close friend after his clerkship. He said the judge had a high level of respect for the judicial process and for anyone who appeared in his courtroom.

“His expectations were high because his personal standards were high,” Dardenne said. “Clerks who worked for him, as well as lawyers who appeared in his courtroom, knew that he expected them to be prepared and to be thorough and to be professional.”

Before becoming a district judge, Polozola served as a magistrate judge — part-time from 1972 to 1973, and full-time from 1973 to 1980. He also served as a law clerk to former U.S. District Judge E. Gordon West in 1965.

“Judge Polozola dedicated his life to public service in the pursuit of justice,” U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux said in a statement. “He always strove to do the right thing and never swerved from that objective, even when it was not easy. He will be missed immensely.”

Mike Walsh, president of the Baton Rouge Bar Association, called Polozola a “consummate jurist” who was well respected by the lawyers who practiced in front of him.

Walsh, who specializes in federal criminal law and has practiced in Baton Rouge for the past 29 years, said Polozola took a personal interest in cases and read all pleadings filed in his courtroom.

“Judge Polozola had a great deal of compassion for the defendants who appeared in front of him who were making an effort,” Walsh said. “If he saw that somebody was trying, he would work with them.”

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, in a statement, said Polozola was a “giant of the federal judiciary.”

“He possessed a keen analytical mind and wisdom born of the compassion with which he faithfully served the bench for more than 40 years,” said Landrieu, D-La. “He will be deeply missed.”

Polozola, born in Baton Rouge on Jan. 15, 1942, graduated from Catholic High School in 1959. He received a bachelor’s degree in business from LSU in 1962 and graduated from LSU Law School in 1965.

Polozola also played on the 1961 LSU baseball team that won the Southeastern Conference championship.

Polozola is the second Middle District judge to die of cancer within the past two years.

Judge Ralph Tyson passed away in July 2011. He replaced Polozola as the district’s chief judge in 2005.

Baton Rouge attorney Shelly Dick has been nominated for Tyson’s seat.

Visitation for Polozola will be from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Rabenhorst East Funeral Home, 11000 Florida Blvd., with recitation of the Rosary at 7 p.m.

Visitation will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and a Mass of Christian Burial begins at 10 a.m. Interment will be at Resthaven Gardens of Memory.