If court’s in session, Vitrano’s on the job

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2000

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / March 4, 2000

Bailiff Nick Vitrano has worked with every St. Charles Parish sheriff of thelast 50 years and now heads the court security detail.

He’s truly a keeper of the peace.

“I don’t feel 70, and they tell me I don’t look 70,” Vitrano said, smiling.

Vitrano, who turned 70 last November, originally hails from Birmingham, Ala.,and moved with his parents to Luling when he was 4 years old. He graduatedfrom Hahnville High School in 1950 and, three years later, married his wife, the former Joyce Jones of Bridge City, whom he met at the Smile Inn in Des Allemands. They have two daughters, Nickie Lynn Nicks and Joann Helfrick,and one son, Darren.

His career in law enforcement came late, as Vitrano worked first as an operator for 20 years, then 10 years as a plant foreman, for St. CharlesParish’s waterworks department.

Nevertheless, Vitrano was on the fringes of law enforcement since the 1950s, first as a commissioned deputy under Sheriff Leon C. Vial Jr. whoheld office from 1944 to 1964. The commission came along with his work asa volunteer fireman from 1952 to 1972.

After 1965’s Hurricane Betsy devastated the area, Sheriff John St. Amantasked Vitrano to become a part-time deputy, where he remained until his retirement from waterworks in 1982.

He worked as a part-time deputy during St. Amant’s first two terms, andunder Sheriff Julius “Ducky” Sellers Jr., then under St. Amant’s remainingyears before the sheriff’s death in 1979.

When Sheriff Charles Wilson took office he placed Vitrano in a position commanding all part-time deputies. When 29th Judicial District Judge JoelChaisson took office in January 1982, he asked for Vitrano as his personal court bailiff.

Chaisson said Vitrano “was a good and faithful employee.”Vitrano was one of three bailiffs, each assigned to a specific judge. Theothers were Alan “Red” Petit with Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon and Tony Corrao with Judge Ruche Marino. Petit has since deceased, and Corrao worksfor parish corrections.

“All the sheriffs were good to me,” Vitrano says, with no ill feeling held against any of them. “They always respected me and I respected them.”As with most in law enforcement, Vitrano has his collection of war stories.

Once, while serving in Judge Chaisson’s court, a man brought in for not paying a fine suddenly dashed from the courtroom and was tackled by Vitrano and others in the lobby, having just knocked over the new metal detector. “That’s why you see that chip off it,” he said, pointing to theupper corner.

The metal detector itself has been a fixture in the courthouse almost from the start.

“Once, when Wilson was sheriff, I spent New Year’s Eve with a prisoner in Charity Hospital who had jumped off a building,” Vitrano recalled. “Once inAma I saw a man shoot himself in the ear after he killed his wife. He lived,too.”Court security may seem like a dull, tedious, chore, but it is necessary. Onenever knows and one never assumes.

A year and a half ago Vitrano had to arrest a 68-year-old woman who (she said) forgot about the tiny handgun in her purse that she carried (with no permit) for self-protection.

“It was in the bottom, covered by so much, that she couldn’t have gotten to it if she ever needed to use it,” he said.

Law enforcement makes the soul weary, even for a bailiff who has to see so much of the worst of human nature. “We’ve had some terrible cases here,”he said, admitting that three years after starting as a bailiff he underwent six months of counseling for depression. “It really tears you up,” he added.Even so, he greets each court visitor with a smile and remains doggedly cheerful, day in and day out. Contemplating retirement “in six months or so,”Vitrano will be one courthouse fixture who will leave with his head held high, having made a positive mark in St. Charles Parish law enforcement.”If I had known I’d be this long, I’d have taken better care of myself,” Vitrano said. After all, he’s taken care of so many others for so long.Back to Top

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