Published 12:00 am Monday, November 21, 2005

Daley’s career choice gave him chance to help in many ways



LAPLACE – The first experience in a courtroom for Tom Daley was many years ago when he was a sophomore in college.

As was the popular fad those days, Daley hitchhiked to get places. But when he got a ticket for hitchhiking, and knew he would have to go to court, the young student figured he would take on the system.

&#8220I got a haircut, put on a suit and went to court to defend myself,” he recalled with a smile. &#8220But I never even got to cross examine anyone. The judge just looked at me and said, ‘son, did you hitchhike or not?’ So I told him I did and he found me guilty.”

Daley said he was so taken with the power of the court system, and so overwhelmed with the experience, that he remembers heading into the parking lot and crying a few tears.

&#8220I had a vivid memory of wanting to get on that side of the law, to have the power to make decisions like that,” he said.

His courtroom experience led him to change his major at Rutgers University, where he was on an academic scholarship, deciding to become a lawyer rather than his earlier choice of going into education.

Today, Daley, 52, is one of the most respected area judges, who has risen rapidly through the ranks of the River Region legal system.

Incredibly, he has run for election unopposed three times, first winning the seat as the 40th District Judge, and winning two seats as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge.

But through it all, Daley’s 16 years on the bench seem to be tied to that early day when he found himself in front of a judge.

&#8220I have always tried to be open and fair, letting people express their grievances. I like the opportunity I’ve had to listen to people and help them resolve their conflicts. Everybody doesn’t always get what they want from a court decision, but I think it is therapeutic when they know someone is listening to them. I have always tried to do that,” he explained.

As a district judge, he was the first stop for anyone bringing action in court, both civil and criminal. He admits that it kept close contact with the people he represented.

&#8220That was a place for a lot of social issues to be decided, and now there are a lot of constitutional morality issues as well. I always saw my role as playing an impartial position, especially in many juvenile cases. I have

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always tried to interplay with schools to help solve problems for kids in difficult situations, and you see a lot of that now,” he added.

Now that he has moved up to the appeals court level, Daley admits he misses the personal contact in the courtroom each day, since his job is now what he describes as &#8220an instant replay umpire in football.”

As an appeals court judge, any cases from the district level which are appealed are sent to his three-judge panel to look over. Daley said he spends &#8220about 90 percent of my time reading” as he reviews the cases, reads former precedent, and writes opinions for the cases.

&#8220”I’m very isolated and I do miss the loss of contact,” he said. &#8220But I teach at LSU Law School, and that is something I enjoy. For me, an exciting event is to get a writ from the courts on a key case.”

Daley’s intent to be a positive force in his community is equally evident by his community and civic involvement.

He is co-chair for the &#8220Keep St. John Beautiful” organization, and is involved with his church at St. Joan of Arc, as well as the Knights of Columbus, New Life Recovery Center, St. John Shade Tree Committee and the Belle Terre II Civic Association. As part of that homeowners group, he even keeps up the garden in front of St. Andrews frequently by himself.

His thinking, he says, is that everyone needs to do a little part in society to make the whole a success.

&#8220My complaint is that not enough people contribute to the general good,” he said. &#8220One person can’t fix everything, but if we all do a little, it would help a lot in many ways.”

Daley was originally from New Jersey, growing up in a huge family that included six brothers and six sisters. With 13 children, he learned a pretty good work ethic from a father who had little choice but to work very, very hard to support the family. His mother, still alive today in her 80s, was a homemaker.

&#8220If I described my mother, I would call her saintly. She taught me how to study and how to pray,” he recalled. &#8220And my dad, I thank him for teaching me how to work and how to party.”

A Catholic family in a small mill town, he was childhood friends with Bruce Springsteen, although he isn’t so sure Bruce would remember him today.

&#8220I remember when he was teaching himself how to play the guitar,” Daley said. &#8220But my childhood was very happy. All I knew was having a lot of brothers and sisters, but with so many, it helped us to be resourceful and independent.”

He switched from Rutgers to Loyola University in New Orleans, finishing his schooling in Louisiana and getting a start in the legal field during school as an independent contractor after he began work on class action lawsuits with a firm that had hired him.

&#8220I represented a lot of small businesses when I started, and that blossomed into other work,” Daley remarked. &#8220It gave me some broad experience in business and personal law.”

His friend from school was a man named John Crum, who would eventually become the St. John Parish district attorney. Crum asked Daley to come on board as an assistant D.A. in 1984, but after six years in that job, a new 40th District was approved by the Legislature.

&#8220I always had the desire to be a judge, so I decided to run. It was nice that no one opposed me,” he recalled.

In 1995 there was an unexpected opening on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, forcing Daley to a big decision earlier than he expected.

&#8220I had planned to stay 12 years as a D.A., but when the appeals position came open, I figured I had to take a shot at it. Fortunately I ran unopposed again to fill the unexpired seat, then I ran again in 1999 and didn’t have any opposition,” Daley said.

Was it just good luck or other reasons Daley never had any political opposition?

&#8220I think I always rallied good support and created a strong base, then I work hard and have managed to not make people mad at me for the most part. But without being from here, I also didn’t have any family baggage, like some in the area, and people perceived me as a fair guy,” Daley explained.

He still says that the best job he ever had was as an assistant D.A., since he had so much contact on a personal level. He has even filed briefs all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

&#8220I think my friends and family would say that my reputation is of a guy who works hard, considers all sides and doesn’t get influenced where I shouldn’t,” he noted. &#8220When I was young, truthfulness was always very important to me. That was my perception of ‘what was good’ and I’ve tried to always maintain that.”

Married to his high school sweetheart 22 years ago, which didn’t occur until 10 years after school, they have two daughters, age 21 and 19, who are both attending college.

To get a break from the office, Daley likes to swim and jog, including running in marathons. But he also takes Saturdays to work at the Sand and Gravel Pit in Amite, going back to a job his dad wouldn’t let him have.

&#8220My dad had several businesses and one of them was a sand and gravel pit. But he didn’t want me to work there so I wouldn’t end up there,” he said. &#8220Now I am part owner in a business like that and I like to run the front end loader on Saturday. It’s kind of my way to do something my dad did, but after I succeeded elsewhere.”

Daley’s current term comes up for election again in 2009 and he said he currently intends to run for office again.