Former Attorney General Billy Guste dies

Billy Guste, who served as the state’s attorney general for 20 years, died Wednesday, his family announced.

William J. Guste Jr. was 91. He served as the state’s top legal officer from 1972 to 1992.

Bernard “Randy” Guste, said his father had been ill for some months and was in nursing care at Chateau de Notre Dame in uptown New Orleans.

“He was ready,” Guste said of his father. “It was just time. There’s a great sense of sadness combined with relief for us all who’ve lost a father and a husband.”

Asked whether his father had been ill, Guste said, “No, not really. But when you get to be 91 years old, you get weak. He just died a peaceful death.”

Buddy Caldwell, Louisiana’s attorney general, recalled meeting Guste as a district attorney in Tallulah.

“Billy was a fierce protector of our constitution and fought many battles on the state’s behalf,” Caldwell said in a prepared statement.

Guste was born in New Orleans in 1922 and graduated from Jesuit High School in 1938. He was a descendent of Antoine Alciatore, who opened Antoine’s Restaurant in 1840, which the family still owns.

Guste attended Loyola University New Orleans, graduating in 1943 with a law degree. After serving in the U.S. Army in France, Guste returned to New Orleans in 1946 to join the law firm of Guste, Barnett and Little, where he practiced for 25 years.

He was elected to the state Senate in 1967.

Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards said Thursday, “In 1971, when I first ran for governor, Billy Guste was thinking about running for governor and I recall in a public forum in Louisiana I suggested that he run for A.G.”

In 1972, Guste ousted incumbent Louisiana Attorney General Jack P.F. Gremillion.

“Not necessarily connected to my advice, he chose to do that and was successful every time he ran and served the state with distinction and honor and without a blemish,” Edwards said.

Guste tangled with Edwards and Gov. Buddy Roemer on several key issues, including the higher education desegregation case and judicial elections litigation.

Roemer recalled Thursday that Guste was “reserved at first, but when you got to know him, he opened up and was passionate about the application of ‘justice’ for all citizens. Good man who leaves behind good deeds and good memories.”

Rusty Jabour, Guste’s press secretary in the 1980s, said, “He represented the interests of the state and he took on some very powerful interests in lawsuits … without any real regard for politics.”

Gary Keyser, a Baton Rouge lawyer who headed Guste’s Land and Natural Resources as well as Environmental Section, filed the so-called “8(g) lawsuit” with strong backing from his boss, which has brought to state coffers more than a billion dollars.

The so-called 8(g) dispute concerned mineral production from a three-mile strip off Louisiana’s coast. The settlement was reached in April 1986, with President Ronald Reagan signing congressional legislation. Federal law required a “fair and equitable” distribution, which was determined at 27 percent for the state’s share in congressional legislation.

“We got a big settlement and continuing royalties,” which are going into a fund to support education initiatives in elementary and secondary schools as well as on college campuses, Keyser said.

On the personal side, Keyser — who knew Guste from his state Senate days — said “He was the most devoted Catholic and good Christian person I’ve ever known, especially in politics.”

Keyser recalled how Guste turned red upon hearing one of his fellow state senators use an off-color word. “He just didn’t like it,” said Keyser.

John Sheppard, who was director of the attorney general’s Public Protection Division called Guste “a great man.”

“He was wealthy, so he was not in politics for the money. He was talked into getting involved in environmental issues. He was in it when
nobody else was,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard recalled how Guste opposed the Rollins Environmental Services original environmental permit because “it was so close to the Baton Rouge acquifer.”

“He was brilliant. You could brief him on a complicated issue and he could talk about it,” said Sheppard.

Guste also presided over the National Association of Attorneys General. In addition, Reagan appointed him to the national Commission on Organized Crime, and he served on the national Environmental Enforcement Council.

Guste is survived by his wife of more than 65 years, Dorothy Schutten Guste, as well as nine children and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending. Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home is in charge of the services.

The Associated Press
contributed to this report.