Formal ceremony Friday for BR’s first female U.S. judge

It was 19 months after her nomination, but the first woman to serve as a U.S. district judge in the nine-parish Middle District of Louisiana received her investiture ceremony Friday in Baton Rouge.

U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick told hundreds of people at the Manship Theatre: “I have so many reasons to be grateful. All I can really say is thanks.”

Dick received her robe from her parents, her gavel from her three sons. She placed her hand on a Bible held by her husband and received the oath of office from her first employer following law school — Kitty Kimball, another history maker.

Kimball was a judge on the bench of the 18th Judicial District Court when she hired Dick. Kimball later became the first woman to serve on the Louisiana Supreme Court and ended her career as the first woman to serve as chief justice of the state’s highest court.

Dick, 53, told her audience she is keenly aware of the responsibilities of her office, adding that her goals are “to seek justice, to show mercy and walk humbly.” She said she always wants “to judge the act and not the actor.”

Dick has shouldered the duties of a federal judge since May, when she was first sworn into office. But the public ceremony did not take place until Friday.

The new judge’s post carries an annual salary of $174,000. The El Paso native had a business career before she entered the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at LSU in 1985. After graduating cum laude in business administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 1981, she managed a $3 million sales territory for Dow Chemical for several years.

After earning her law degree in 1988, Dick became Kimball’s law clerk before beginning her law practice. She became a founding partner of the Baton Rouge law firm of Forrester & Dick in 1994.

Sen. Mary Landrieu recommended Dick to President Barack Obama for a judgeship after the death of Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson in July 2011. The president nominated Dick in April 2012, but U.S. Sen. David Vitter blocked that nomination until after the presidential election in November.

Landrieu told Dick’s audience that Friday was “an afternoon I’ve looked forward to for almost two years.”

In December, Landrieu noted that Dick had served the Louisiana Workforce Commission for three years as an ad hoc hearing officer in the Office of Worker’s Compensation. The senator also said she was impressed with Dick’s decision to take hunger mission trips to Cambodia, South Africa and Kenya.

Because of such service, Landrieu said Friday, she derived great joy from her opportunity to speak “about the first woman to serve on this court.”

Although Dick is the first woman to receive a lifetime appointment to the federal district bench in Baton Rouge, two other women blazed a trail for her. Former U.S. Magistrate Judges Christine Noland and Docia Dalby retired from their lower posts before Dick took office in May.

Chief Circuit Judge Carl E. Stewart of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals welcomed Dick to the federal bench and urged her to revel in “this wonderful, wonderful day” because the years ahead will include heavy workloads, controversial cases and pressure.

“Enjoy the moment and know that we’re proud of you,” Stewart said.

Mike Walsh, president of the Baton Rouge Bar Association, said he has been asked repeatedly “What kind of judge is she going to be?”

Walsh said Dick has not had time to send any of his clients to prison, rule against him in civil suits or fine him for contempt of court.

“So, I think she’s going to be a great judge,” Walsh deadpanned.

The Rev. Chris Andrews of the Jubilee Community compared the federal courthouse to “the people’s church.” Andrews said Dick’s new job “is not light duty” and urged her to remember that the courthouse is “a place to address wrong.”

Dick presented flowers to Pat Tyson, widow of the former judge, in memory of “all those years of service.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson told Dick: “This is a historic occasion, and we’re really glad to have you.”

The Middle District of Louisiana includes the parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Ascension, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, Iberville, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana and St. Helena.