Services honor Judge Polozola

Hundreds of people gathered at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge on Wednesday morning for memorial services for the late U.S. District Judge Frank J. Polozola.

Polozola, 71, died Sunday night after a long bout with cancer.

The line outside the cathedral during visitation reached the bottom of the church’s front steps.

After visitation came a Mass of Christian burial, followed by a processional to Resthaven Gardens of Memory and Funeral Home on Jefferson Highway.

Family members requested that media not attend the services.

The Rev. Paul Counce, pastor of St. Joseph, said more than 600 people attended the funeral Mass.

Bishop Robert Muench, of the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, led the ceremony, Counce said. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a former clerk of Polozola’s, delivered a eulogy, as did Brother Francis David, former principal and president of Catholic High School.

Counce said the judge had a cordial relationship with the cathedral and routinely visited for Mass.

“He was one of those persons who truly made doing justice the guiding principle of his work and his life,” he said.

Liz Daigle, who knew Polozola for more than 40 years and worked as his judicial assistant, said the crowded ceremony at St. Joseph had a “beautiful atmosphere.”

She said she saw many of Polozola’s former law clerks in attendance.

“He treated the people who worked with him like family,” Daigle said.

Myron Walker was a law clerk for former U.S. District Judge E. Gordon West when Polozola was a magistrate judge.

Walker said the ceremony was fitting for Polozola, whom he called a “wonderful, wonderful man.”

“He really was an example of the adage that you can tell the character of a person by how he treats people that he doesn’t have to treat well,” Walker said.

U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux, in an interview after the services, said Polozola “lived an exemplary life, impacted a lot of lives, but he never forgot to put his family first. He also never forgot the essential values of treating people with dignity and respect.”

Polozola is the second Middle District judge to die of cancer within the past two years. Ralph Tyson died in July 2011.

Polozola had been serving as a U.S. district judge since 1980. He was the Middle District’s chief judge from 1998 to 2005 and assumed senior status in 2007.

Polozola presided over several high-profile cases throughout his district judgeship, including former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ riverboat gambling corruption trial in 2000. Edwards was convicted in May 2000 and began his prison sentence in October 2002 before being released in 2011.

Polozola also oversaw the state’s nearly three-decade effort to reduce overcrowding at Louisiana prisons.

The long-running legal battle began in 1971 when inmates at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola sued over conditions there. The suit eventually led to a 1983 federal consent decree in which Polozola ordered limits on prison populations.

Polozola also accepted a guilty plea in January 1986 from drug smuggler Adler “Barry” Seal on cocaine possession and distribution charges and ordered him to the Salvation Army Community Treatment Center for six months.

Seal, whom federal authorities said was a key informant in a large-scale Miami drug-smuggling investigation, was gunned down about a month later in the treatment center’s parking lot.

Polozola handled 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. And he presided over former state Agriculture Commissioner Gil Dozier’s racketeering and extortion trial that led to Dozier’s conviction in 1980.

He also handled the 1984 trial of former District Attorney Ossie Brown and former mayoral aide J. David Bourland on conspiracy, mail fraud and extortion charges. Brown and Bourland were acquitted.