After 24 years in the judiciary, Judge James Edward “Jimmy” Kuhn has announced his retirement. “It’s a tough decision,” he said, “but I think it’s for the best.”
Kuhn was born on October 31, 1946, in Ponchatoula, Louisiana to Edward and Mildred Kuhn. He was one of nine children, which included his five brothers and three sisters. In December of 1969, Kuhn married Cheryl Aucoin from Chalmette, and a few years later, they adopted their twin children, Jennifer and Jimmy, Jr. Kuhn moved back to Ponchatoula in late 1999 where he continues to live.
Kuhn graduated from Ponchatoula High School in 1964. He then attended Southeastern Louisiana University from 1964-1968. After all these years, Kuhn remains a strong supporter. “Southeastern is probably the best school I’ve ever been to. I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else,” he said. Indeed, one can find Kuhn cheering on his old alma mater during football and basketball games.
Kuhn loves Southeastern so much that from 1993 until 2010, despite his heavy workload as a judge, he made time to teach political science, political history and criminal justice. “There were usually about two classes per semester,” he said, “but unfortunately, due to budget cuts, I couldn’t teach anymore.” Kuhn remains positive and hopes that after his retirement, an opportunity to teach classes will again present itself.
When he was a student at Southeastern, Kuhn joined the honor fraternity, Phi Kappa Phi, where he first met his best friend, Ronnie Crimmins. “I don’t like to think about how my life would have been if the Judge hadn’t been in it. He’s been very good to me and my family,” said Crimmins. Crimmins pointed out that Kuhn has actually maintained friendships with a large number of his fraternity brothers.
Kuhn had his first glimpse of the law in 1969. “I was working for PanAm Oil Company [today known as Amoco]. I got home from a trip to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and it dawned on me that [being a lawyer] would be a great way to help people. It also looked like a great opportunity,” Kuhn reflected. Without thinking twice, Kuhn applied to Loyola University in New Orleans, and spent the next four years pursuing a law degree. At the age of 26, Kuhn became a lawyer, and spent the next 17 years practicing law.
In 1989, Kuhn was approached by a group of lawyers, which included Rodney Cashe and Jonathan Schmidt. “They told me I had great potential and asked me to consider running for judge,” Kuhn recounted. “I liked the sound of it because it was a way to spend more time with my family but, more importantly, I realized I had something to offer the court system and the legal profession; to give direction and clarity to the people in the court and the profession [as a whole],” he said.
The next year, Kuhn ran for judge and, in January 1991, was sworn in as a judge for the 21st Judicial District. For the next three years, Kuhn worked in the courthouses in Amite, Livingston and Greensburg, where he presided over both civil and criminal cases. In October 1994, he successfully ran for a seat on the First Circuit Court of Appeal.
Kuhn has spent the last twenty years hearing cases as a court of appeal judge. During that time Kuhn says that he has made many friends with the other judges and staff, noting that the First Circuit geographically includes Baton Rouge, the Florida parishes, and those parishes south of Baton Rouge and west of New Orleans. According to Kuhn, the First Circuit is the busiest of all the appellate courts. He explains that besides Baton Rouge, which is the seat of Louisiana’s state government that leads to a bevy of cases most other circuit courts do not have to address on a regular basis, the First Circuit also includes the two largest growing parishes in the state: St. Tammany and Livingston.
In addition to the central staff, which consists of many attorneys and assistants and is housed in the courthouse located in Baton Rouge, Kuhn has a personal staff. Patricia Walsh, his secretary, and Lisa Kety, a research attorney who serves him directly, work in Kuhn’s Ponchatoula satellite office. Jan LeBlanc, a research attorney assigned to Kuhn in 2011, works in the Baton Rouge courthouse.
During his tenure at the First Circuit, Kuhn estimates that he has participated in about 5,000 decisions. Of those, he was the authoring judge in upwards of 1,200. According to Kety, “Judge Kuhn leaves as a legacy a body of work that is well respected.”
Kuhn feels the greatest moment in his career was “the time I filed two lawsuits which culminated in class actions, both being helpful to the communities involved. The first lawsuit arose from a train derailment and the resulting pollution. The second began with the working closure of a hazardous waste site and its pollution to the community.”
The low point in Kuhn’s career was his unsuccessful bid for the LA Supreme Court in 2008. “The citizens of the state, and the legal profession in particularly, lost an amazing opportunity to have a well-seasoned, strong jurist shape the law,” Kety said. Despite the loss, Kuhn was gracious in defeat. “It was disappointing,” he said. Kuhn states that he feels empathy for the politicians running in the 2014 elections, emphasizing the negative television ads.
Kuhn believes he is blessed to have his family, friends and trusty staff share in his happiness and success over the last 42 years. Following his retirement Kuhn said he might accept appointments from the Louisiana Supreme Court as well as various odd jobs that may arise in civil lawsuits and in the criminal justice system. “It’s been a fun ride,” he smiled, “but it’s going to be all right.”