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The Honorable Ivan Lemelle

U.S. District Court Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle was born on June 29, 1950, in Opelousas, Louisiana. In 1971, Lemelle graduated cum laude from Xavier University with a B.S. degree. Lemelle received many scholarships in order to attend Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans, where he graduated in 1974 with a J.D. degree. After graduation, he served for three years as an Assistant District Attorney in New Orleans, where he was promoted to supervisory positions within that office, including co-chief of narcotic prosecutions.

In 1977, Lemelle worked as a private practitioner with the law firm of Douglas, Nabonne & Wilkerson, the largest African American law firm in Louisiana at that time. He also served part-time as Assistant City Attorney for the City of New Orleans. From 1980 to October 2, 1984, Lemelle was the Assistant Attorney General for the Louisiana Department of Justice. From October 3, 1984 to 1998, he was a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. His appointment to that office made him the first African American United States Magistrate Judge in Louisiana federal courts and the sixth African American U. S. Magistrate Judge in the Nation. In 1998, President Bill Clinton appointed Lemelle to the position of United States District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans, where he currently serves as the only African American District Judge for that Court.

In addition to service in leadership positions with numerous civic, fraternal and professional organizations, Judge Lemelle has also served on the Federal Judicial Center’s Advisory Committee for the Guide to Judicial Management of Cases in Alternate Dispute Resolution, President of the Loyola College of Law-Thomas More Inn of Court, Visiting Committee Board for Loyola College of Law, Amistad Research Center’s Executive Board, Federal Bar Association New Orleans Chapter Board of Directors, District Judges Association for the U. S. Fifth Circuit Executive Committee, and the Board of Reconcile New Orleans, Inc.-a nonprofit committed to addressing the system of generational poverty, violence and neglect in the New Orleans area.

Judge Ivan Lemelle was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 8, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.054

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/8/2010

Last Name

LeMelle

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

North Elementary School

St. Augustine Seminary

Xavier University of Louisiana

Opelousas Catholic School

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

First Name

Ivan

Birth City, State, Country

Opelousas

HM ID

LEM02

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Swimming

Favorite Quote

The Reward For Doing Good Work Is To Do Better Work.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Louisiana

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/29/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New Orleans

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Federal district court judge The Honorable Ivan Lemelle (1950 - ) served as the U.S. Magistrate to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana for over a decade, and in 1998, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Employment

New Orleans Legal Assistance Corp.

United States Department of Defense

Xavier University

Loyola University City College Div.

Loyola University College of Law

United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana

District Attorney's Office

Law Firm of Douglas, Nabonne, & Wilkerson

City Attorney Office

Louisiana Department of Justice

Favorite Color

Black, Yellow

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619410">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Ivan Lemelle's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619411">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619412">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his mother's upbringing and education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619413">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619414">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619415">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his paternal grandparents</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619416">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his father's personality and career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619417">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his earliest childhood memories</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619418">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his family's move to Opelousas, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619419">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his community in Opelousas, Louisiana, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619420">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his community in Opelousas, Louisiana, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619421">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his elementary schools in Opelousas, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619422">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his early religious experiences</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619423">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his schools' limited resources</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619424">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his childhood activities</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619425">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his early career and educational aspirations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619426">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his parents' civil rights efforts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619427">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his experiences of racial discrimination in Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619428">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls the assassinations of the 1960s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619429">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his teenage social activities</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619430">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his high school prom and graduation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619431">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his father's value of educational achievement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619432">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his housing at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619433">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about Gert Town in New Orleans, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619434">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his activities at Xavier University of Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619435">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his experiences with the Student Government Association</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619436">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers pledging Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619437">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his decision to attend law school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619438">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle reflects upon his experiences at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619439">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls the political climate of Xavier University of Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619440">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his start at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619441">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his experiences at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619442">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his law school professors</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619443">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his experiences at the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619444">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his internship for the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps at Fort Sam Houston</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619445">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his experience as a student law practitioner in Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619446">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his personal growth</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619447">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers passing the bar examination</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619448">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls proposing to his wife</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619449">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his wife and children</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619450">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers clerking for Judge Robert Collins</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619451">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his early career as an attorney</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619452">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about the roles of a magistrate judge and city attorney</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619453">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his decision to apply for a magistrate judgeship</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619454">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle reflects upon his experiences of sentencing</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619455">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls being recommended for a federal district judgeship</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619456">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes the federal judicial appointment process</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619457">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his Senate judicial confirmation hearing</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619458">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his chambers at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619459">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls delivering his first life sentence</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619460">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his preference for federal civil cases</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619461">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about the U.S. courts of appeals</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619462">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan LemElle recalls a housing discrimination case</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619463">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his cases relevant to Hurricane Katrina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619464">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers Hurricane Katrina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619465">Tape: 6 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619466">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes the Just the Beginning Foundation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619467">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about RNO, Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619468">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes his involvement with the youth of New Orleans, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619469">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about the law profession</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619470">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle shares his advice to future generations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619471">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle reflects upon his career</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619472">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle talks about his interest in travelling</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619473">Tape: 7 Story: 8 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle describes how he would like to be remembered and his hopes for youth</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/619474">Tape: 7 Story: 9 - The Honorable Ivan Lemelle expresses his gratitude for The HistoryMakers</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$6

DAStory

6$1

DATitle
The Honorable Ivan Lemelle recalls his experience as a student law practitioner in Louisiana
The Honorable Ivan Lemelle remembers his Senate judicial confirmation hearing
Transcript
And I'll never forget going to, in my senior year of law school [Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, New Orleans, Louisiana], the first time they had a program that allowed senior year law students, under the supervision of a licensed attorney, could actually go to a (air quotes) real court, and represent a client before a real judge, and in civil and criminal proceedings. And it was a rule in the Louisiana Supreme Court that authorized that to occur. The law schools had to set it up, get it approved, and I was one of the first students of doing that, and going to court, representing a client with a licensed lawyer. And my first time appearing before a judge in a court in that context, it was in Jefferson Parish [Louisiana], where I heard all kind of stories about, and said, okay, I'm going outside of my parish [Orleans Parish, Louisiana] now to Jefferson. And I appear for this proceeding. It was a criminal case. And the client (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) And I'm sorry, what parish is this?$$Jefferson Parish. It's right across the--it's an adjoining parish to New Orleans [Louisiana]. And going to that state court and in the criminal proceeding--I think it was an arraignment where you just go in, and the client pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges and advised of a trial date and some other pretrial proceedings. My supervising lawyer, who was the director of the law clinic, was late for this proceeding. And I'm thinking, okay, he's late. There's a lot of other people in here waiting for their cases to be called. So, nothing to worry about, tell my client it's okay. Not okay. They called my client's case. The client walks to the podium with me. I tell the judge, "Judge, my name is [HistoryMaker] Ivan Lemelle. I'm appearing as a student practitioner pursuant to Louisiana Supreme Court rule--," blah, blah, blah. The judge cuts me off and says, "Did you say student practitioner?" I said, "Yes, Judge." He said, "I don't know what that is. Are you a member of the bar?" I said, "No, Judge." And he says, "Well, you can't appear. You step outside of the counsel area, and I'll deal with your client--," no, "with, with this defendant and without you." I said, "But, Judge, I'm appearing, pursuant to the Louisiana rule--," blah, blah, blah. The judge said, "You didn't hear what I said? I'm going to hold you in contempt if you proceed with it." At that point, you know, I'm, I'm thinking, okay, here's the end of my career about to happen 'cause I'm just stuck there--frozen. And he must have sown--seen that I was not moving. In bust my supervising lawyer that moment, and kind of rescued me from being held in contempt. And he asked me afterwards--the supervising lawyer asked me, he said, "What were you going to do?" I said, "You know, I don't know. I was just standing there trying to represent my client, and trying to advise the judge of this rule, but, you know, it wasn't getting through," so that was scary. But, again, it, it--scary and exciting at the same time. And I guess you could say it was one, one of many moments where I guess I disagreed with the judge, but didn't lose my cool, so to speak, in, in, in being disagreeable to the judge. So, again, all this influenced me to go into litigation, as opposed to corporate law, and, and enjoyed it since.$Continue telling me about your confirmation.$$The living autopsy?$$Yes (laughter).$$Yeah. It, it, it didn't end with the actual nomination. Once I got word that the president, ju- President Clinton [President William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton] was the president in office when I was nominated, he nominated me. I got word that he nominated me and I said, okay, this is downhill from here, right? You got the nomination. You just need Senate hearing and a confirmation by the [U.S.] Senate. Well, lo and behold, a colleague of mine--well, she was Judge Lemmon [Mary Ann Vial Lemmon]. She was up for Senate confirmation, and I was just nominated. She was getting her hearing before the Senate, before me, and the chief judge of the court appeared at her confirmation hearing before the Senate, and told them that she's well qualified. She'd be a great federal judge, but we really don't need her. Our docket, our caseload in his opinion, it didn't justify another judge, even though there was a vacancy. The Senate went on ahead and confirmed, but the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee [U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary] said at the time, and I could understand why--he said the next nominee coming from that court, my court [U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana], would have a problem getting confirmed--or getting a hearing for confirmation if the chief judge of the court still felt that way, or the court still felt that way. Well, guess who is the next nominee coming up? Moi. And it took about, almost a year, I think, for me after nomination to get a confirmation hearing. And the only thing that changed his mind--the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee back then, was the judges in my court said that, look, Judge Lemelle [HistoryMaker Ivan Lemelle] is already here as a magistrate judge, you know, he's going to hit the floor running. Let's bring him onboard and, and they said that another vacancy that we had at the time--there was two vacancies. I was up for one. Nobody is up for the other one yet. And they were going to transfer that vacancy to Baton Rouge, middle district of Baton Rouge [U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana]. So, a combination of factors then, then got me that confirmation hearing. And after all that, that wait, the confirmation hearing lasted maybe--it wasn't even an hour in my estimation. There was four of us, four judicial nomina- nominees that were appearing for the hearing before the Senate. It was myself, a judge from Los Angeles, California and two nominees from Michigan--Detroit, Michigan, I think. And like I said, not even an hour, and that went well. About, I, I say, it was just a week later, it might have been longer or short. I get a call from the senior U.S. senator from Louisiana, then John Breaux. And he says, "Ivan, the Senate has voted by unanimous consent, your nomination--confirmed you, and now, it's just a matter of the president signing it." I was having coffee at a local restaurant when I got the call. And they had trouble reaching me initially. They called my mother [Cecilia Comeaux Lemelle] first in Opelousas [Louisiana], don't know how that happened, then they called me, and I got the word, so that process was interesting. And, again, educational, and I, you know, it, it gave me another appreciation for the position, and what it means 'cause it, it wasn't easy.$$And, and this was in 1998?$$Nineteen ninety-eight [1998], correct, when I was confirmed and sworn in.