Judge Julius A. Rousseau Jr., nearly 89 when he died Oct. 3, will long be remembered through stories and his good reputation.
Steeped in the personality of his native county of Wilkes, he was a senior resident Superior Court judge for 26 years. Rousseau’s keen knowledge of law and confidence in his views on its dictates formed the basis for his stern but evenhanded sense of justice.
This was referenced in his funeral Saturday at First United Methodist Church of North Wilkesboro. A former pastor of that church told about a repeat offender who tried to avoid having Rousseau hear his case because of his reputation for giving lengthy prison terms. The defendant, relatively advanced in age, ended up before Rousseau and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. When the man complained that he wouldn’t live long enough to complete a 40-year term, Rousseau told him, “Well, just do the best you can.”
He had little patience with attorneys who used court time inefficiently. Rousseau once said that from his father, a Superior Court judge from 1935-1958, he learned to not take lawyers too seriously.
He sentenced three attorneys to a night in jail for contempt of court when they failed to show up in a courtroom where their clients were waiting to be tried. The attorneys were served with bench warrants in a coffee shop.
Rousseau, aware of his tenuous standing with some attorneys, made a tongue-in-cheek promise to a crowd dominated by lawyers when he was presented with the Order of the Long-Leaf Pine in 2012. “If I ever serve as a resident Superior Court judge again, I promise I’ll have the patience of Job and will rule in favor of all of you,” he said.
His humor went beyond his profession. When a roving radio reporter stopped to interview Rousseau at a Wilkes Central High football game decades ago and didn’t recognize him, Rousseau took on the persona of a visitor from Texas and went on about how N.C. high school football paled in comparison to its counterpart in Texas.
Wilkes County Attorney Tony Triplett can attest to Rousseau’s personable side.
While home for spring break in his first year at the UNC School of Law in 1979, Triplett sat in on a jury trial Rousseau was presiding over at the Wilkes County Courthouse. Triplett was taken aback when Rousseau stood up in the trial, invited him to the bench and then to a room behind the courtroom. There, Rousseau briefly explained the trial and invited Triplett to remain in the courtroom to discuss it some more during the next recess.
They discussed the case again and Rousseau asked Triplett about law school. When Triplett said he was studying all the time, Rousseau urged him to develop a schedule with time for exercise or some other diversion.
Years later, Rousseau was presiding in the same courtroom and saw Triplett taking copious notes while his senior partner, Gary Vannoy, interviewed a witness. In a recess, Rousseau urged Triplett to watch and listen to witnesses more and take fewer notes.
When Rousseau was crusading for building a new county courthouse, he reminded Triplett that he could hold the county commissioners in contempt of court due to the old facility’s inadequacy. Rousseau was on the courthouse committee and he hastened its construction. The judge wanted it completed before he retired in December 1998; it opened earlier that year.
Wilkesboro Town Attorney John Willardson replaced Rousseau as the late Larry Moore’s law partner when Rousseau became a judge in 1972. Rousseau was presiding the first day Willardson was ever in a trial courtroom and called Moore to the bench. Willardson said he heard the judge ask if he wanted the new attorney to “get his feet wet.” Moore said yes and Rousseau appointed Willardson to represent a man charged with DWI. Willardson said he had to handle the case on his own and wasn’t sure what to do. When Moore heard that the day ended with the jury deliberating for 45 minutes without reaching a verdict, he said Willardson must have confused the jury so he did something right. Willardson said the jury quickly reached a “guilty” verdict the next morning.
During a trial a few months later, Rousseau called Willardson to the bench and told him, “If you don’t stop asking questions, you’re going to make out a case for the state.” Willardson said it was great advice and he followed it.
Neil Cashion Jr. said his grandfather, Dick Cashion, taught Rousseau about politics after Rousseau’s father died at age 67. The younger Rousseau chaired the Wilkes Democratic Executive Committee from 1961-68. Cashion said Rousseau helped him get started in politics.
Rousseau said his political days were over when he became a judge, noted Cashion. “And they really were,” he added, but the two stayed in contact and Rousseau swore Cashion in each time he was elected North Wilkesboro mayor. Cashion said he appreciated Rousseau telling him to his face rather than talking behind his back whenever he disagreed with something Cashion said or did.