Judge Julius A. Rousseau Jr., 88, retired senior resident Superior Court judge for the 23rd Judicial District (Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany and Yadkin counties), died Thursday at Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home in Winston-Salem.
The funeral for Rousseau will be at noon Saturday at First United Methodist Church of North Wilkesboro. Reins-Sturdivant Funeral Home in North Wilkesboro is in charge of the arrangements, which are incomplete. A full obituary will be posted on www.journalpatriot.com later this week and will be in Friday’s print edition of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.
Born and raised in North Wilkesboro and a resident of Wilkesboro for most of his adult life, Rousseau had the longest tenure of any Superior Court judge in the state when he retired in December 1998.
He was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Superior Court Judge Robert M. Gambill in 1972, and subsequently was elected to eight-year terms in 1974, 1982 and 1990. The governor appointed Rousseau an emergency Superior Court judge in early 1999, and he resigned from that position in late 2015.
Rousseau served for about 20 years with other trial judges on the state’s Pattern Jury Instruction Committee, a volunteer body that creates annual supplements on the instructions judges give juries, based on changes in statutory and case law. He also was president of the N.C. Conference of Superior Court Judges.
N.C. Supreme Court Justice Sarah Parker presented Rousseau the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the top awards given by the governor, in 2012.
Born on Dec. 3, 1930, he was the son of Judge Julius A. and Gertrude Hall Rousseau. Julius A. Rousseau Sr. was an N.C. Superior Court judge from 1935-1958. Combined, the father and son served as fulltime N.C. Superior Court judges for 49 years.
Judge Richard L. Doughton of Sparta, former special Superior Court judge and later an emergency Superior Court judge, said Rousseau is known as one of the best trial judges North Carolina ever had. He said the one word that sums him up best is integrity. “He would give you as fair a trial as any judge ever could. But if it was a criminal case and you were found guilty, he was not an easy punisher…. But he was as compassionate a man as I ever knew.
“He loved Wilkes County and he loved being a judge,” said Doughton, adding that Rousseau had strong connections to all four counties in his 23rd Judicial District. “I can’t tell you how much I’ll miss him. He was a mentor to me my entire career.”
Judge Edgar B. Gregory of Wilkesboro, senior resident Superior Court judge for the 23rd Judicial District from 2006-2014, said Rousseau was a very hard working, professional and no-nonsense judge who wanted efficiency in the courtroom. “You were always on yours Ps and Qs in front of him” as an attorney. Rousseau was “of the old school,” in that he gave tough sentences but he was fair. Rousseau’s reputation for impartiality and integrity was widely known across the state, he added.
Gregory and Rousseau often had lunch together on Fridays. “He liked to talk about the law and appellate cases. That was his hobby. You could tell he loved what he did…. He was a dear friend of mine, and someone I always looked up to a lot.”
Tom Horner, district attorney for the 23rd Prosecutorial District, said he tried his first jury trial in Superior Court almost 30 years ago in front of Rousseau. “Since that time, I have appeared in front of him and tried many more cases before him. In my opinion, he was the finest, most legally sound jurist who I have ever went before. I wish there were more judges like him on the bench today.” Horner said Rousseau “was a man of integrity who loved his family and community very much. I will miss him very much with regard to our loss in the legal profession, but, more importantly, I will miss him as a friend and mentor.”
Judge Robert Collier Jr. of Statesville, also a retired Superior Court judge, said Rousseau was one of the state’s most outstanding judges. “He was a very dedicated public servant” and was extremely well-versed in the law, he added. When Rousseau was at North Wilkesboro High School and Collier at Statesville High, they played football against each other. They also were classmates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Rousseau graduated from North Wilkesboro High in 1949, from UNC (where he played football as a walk-on) with an undergraduate degree in 1953 and from the UNC School of Law in 1956.
He had a solo law practice in North Wilkesboro from 1956-1962, and was a partner in Moore & Rousseau in Wilkesboro from 1963 until 1972, when he became a Superior Court judge. Rousseau was chairman of the Wilkes County Democratic Party Executive Committee from 1961-1968.
He and the former Gary Maxwell were married in August 1955, and they had one son, Julius A. Rousseau III, an attorney in New York City. The couple lived in Wilkesboro until they moved to Arbor Acres United Methodist Retirement Community in Winston-Salem a few years ago.
Rousseau was a lifelong member of First United Methodist Church of North Wilkesboro, where he served on the church’s board of trustees and was a member of the Men’s Bible Class. He also was a member of the North Wilkesboro Kiwanis Club and North Wilkesboro’s Elks Lodge.
He was a member of the committee that designed the current Wilkes County Courthouse in Wilkesboro, which opened the same year he retired as a senior resident Superior Court judge.