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Late judge was a character

By Staff
An item in last week’s “25? years ago” section got me to thinking about the late Judge Hugh Rozelle. What a character!

According to Brewton Standard archives, “Hugh Rozelle Day” was proclaimed in Escambia County in 1981 in honor of his retirement from the District Court bench, where he had served for 16 years. Prior to that, he served in the Alabama House of Representatives.

A native of Clay County, he was the nephew of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. While Black was somewhat out of favor with Alabamians by the time he left the Supreme Court, Judge Rozelle was immensely proud of his uncle and always planned to write a book about him.

As a young man, Rozelle worked in Washington, D.C., while attending law school. In later years, he would often refer red to the time as his years as the “ engineer of the vertical transportation system in Washington, D.C.” In other words, he was an elevator operator at the Capitol.

Judge Rozelle helped the Poarch Creek Indians fight for federal recognition as an Indian tribe, and told wonderful stories about the spaghetti suppers held to raise money for him and tribal representatives to travel to Washington to lobby for the federal recognition.

Judge Rozelle said nobody in Washington believed there were Indians in Alabama, so he always took the most “Indian-looking tribal member I could find” with him to Washington.

On the bench, he had some rather unusual tactics. When he suspended someone’s driver’s license, he personally took custody of the license. That was in the time before laminated licenses featuring photographs, and it wasn’t unusual for Rozelle to be carrying 20 in his wallet.

Woody McCorvey, an assistant head football coach at Mississippi State, tells a story about Judge Rozelle suspending his license for speeding, but letting him have it back for prom night. Woody had to return the license to Judge Rozelle early the next morning for the continuation of his “driver’s license.”

A banker who had to go before him regularly on bad check cases said he always tried to slip in and conduct his business quietly to avoid embarassing the check writers. When Rozelle saw him in the back of the courtroom, he would immediately call out, asking, “who has sent us some worthless checks today,” and ruining the possibility of clearing up the matter quietly.

If you’ve heard someone refer to his spouse as his “wife by marriage,” you’ve heard a Rozelle colloquialism. Another favorite from the bench was, “ (fill in the blank), I have a minimum high regard for you.”

Although Judge Rozelle left the bench in 1981, he continued to practice law until shortly before his death in 1998. He was in his 80s, and until his stroke, his mind was sharp as a tack.
Obviously, I had more than a “ high regard” for him. He’s a character who’s hard to forget.

Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Standard. She can be reached at 867.4876 or michele.gerlach@brewtonstandard.com