100 Years Ago in Bienville Parish – Sitting District Judge Reynolds Enters Law School

In August 1922, 62-year-old District Judge John Edwin Reynolds of Arcadia entered the law school of the University of Michigan to earn his LL. B. (Legum Baccalaureus) degree, the formal Latin designation for what was once almost universally the first professional law degree in the United States, the Bachelor of Laws. 

Judge Reynolds had practiced law for 34 years and had served as district judge for seven years, all without a law degree.  Judge Reynolds was not being deceitful.  When Judge Reynolds was 21 years old, he “read his law” in the office of a prominent Louisiana attorney.  “Reading law” was the method used for people to enter the legal profession before the advent of law schools which consisted of an extended internship or apprenticeship under the tutelage or mentoring of an experienced lawyer.  After satisfactory “reading his law,” young Reynolds took and passed a law examination at the state capital, thus earning his license to practice law.

When asked why he, someone who had practiced law for over forty years, would enter law school, Judge Reynolds explained that he regretted not having earned a legal degree.  He especially wanted his law degree from the University of Michigan because of the school’s “splendid reputation in the field.” 

Judge Reynolds was most interested in the different methods of handling certain cases such as juvenile cases and probation cases.  “We have juvenile laws in Louisiana,” Judge Reynolds explained, “but they are very insufficient.  My attention had been called to the fact that Michigan handled her juvenile cases with rare judgment and especially had I heard of the juvenile court and probation methods of Detroit second to no city in the United States excelling even New York City.  That was finally what decided me to again take up the study of law, if a lawyer can ever be said to lay it down, and what decided me upon Michigan.”

“We need, in my country, some procedure that will prevent juvenile delinquency as well as punish it after it had occurred.  We need preventive measures more than we need methods of punishment for crimes committed.  We haven’t the laws that will prevent juvenile delinquency; we haven’t the approved method.  In part of the country we are just beginning to feel the need of such laws, and of certain procedure to protect the children; to prevent them from becoming criminals.”

Judge Reynolds explained his desire for an updated parole system.  “I hope, also, to be able to find up here, what we need down there, where a certain type of convict, sentenced to prison for some crime committed, can be placed on a prison farm, where they will be under strict surveillance all of the time, but also free to care for their families financially while they are paying the penalty for the crime committed.  When I return to my district, I want to make application of what I have received here [at the University of Michigan] to the existing conditions there.  I have the unqualified assurance of the police juries of the three parishes, which compose the district of which I am judge, to do their utmost to help put into effect some plan which we will work together to evolve.”

Source:  The Bienville Democrat, August 31, 1922, p.4.


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