Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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October 19, 2009

Justice funeral today

Observers give their view of judge that changed Texas

A judge, who was once called “The Most Hated Man in Texas,” died last week in Austin while being lauded in Athens and across Texas today in a private ceremony as one of the giants in Texas history.

William Wayne Justice's most influential decisions are credited with bringing about desegregation of Texas schools, reforming the Texas prison system, and for enabling the children of undocumented immigrants to attend Texas public schools.

Though never a victim of discrimination himself, the judge is said to have learned compassion for the weak and the downtrodden through a series of childhood illnesses.

His conservative critics called him an activist judge who was making law from the bench, instead of just interpreting what came before him.

But those in Athens, who knew him well, remembered a kind, soft-spoken gentleman, an intellectual, and a huge difference maker.

Former 173rd District Court Judge, and now Gun Barrel City Municipal Judge Jack Holland, remembered Justice practicing law with his father in the same building where he and his partner set up their practice in 1959.

“He was very helpful to young lawyers,” he said. “He really helped me a lot on how to deal with people and clients.

“He just read the law all the time. He kept up. He was really studious,” Holland said.

Holland said he felt sad for the judge and his wife, Sue Justice, after the family moved to Tyler.

“He was ostracized in Tyler, which was kind of expected because of the decisions he made,” Holland said. “He really believed what he wrote. He’d check all of the cases for precedent, and he’d come out with the best decision he could.

“I’m not sure he always agreed with his own decision, but he ruled the way he felt the law required him to do.

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