A group of state judges and attorneys knew it would take something extra special to honor a peer whose accomplishments made her a trailblazer.
Friends and colleagues gathered Dec. 30 in front of the Pointe Coupee Parish Courthouse to unveil a bronze statue of Catherine “Kitty” Kimball, the retired Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The statue paid homage to Kimball, who made history as the state’s first female Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, a post she held from 2009 until 2013.
Kimball knew nothing about the honor when she and her husband, former state Rep. Clyde Kimball, arrived at the courthouse parking lot.
“Our sheriff (Rene Thibodeaux) asked us to come join him for a party at the courthouse,” she said after the ceremony. “I never expected this.”
District Attorney Tony M. Clayton, a longtime friend of the retired Supreme Court Justice, spearheaded the efforts to honor Kimball with a statue.
“Who else was better to honor than Justice Kimball?” he said. “Had her health held up, she probably would’ve been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The statue was created and designed overseas by a Greek sculpture. The project was two years in the making but was held up off the Atlantic Coast for six months, Clayton said.
The sculpture was delivered and erected within two weeks.
“There has been a plethora of lawyers who have passed through her courtroom, and so I just decided to be the representative of all of them,” he said. “This is the work of all the lawyers who went before her.
“Kitty is simply one of the best human beings I’ve ever met … she played a vital role in shaping me to what I am, and I probably wouldn’t be district attorney if it was not for her,” he said. “She treated me like a son, like I was part of the family.”
The designation as state Supreme Court justice was not the first landmark accomplishment for Kimball, an Alexandria native who now lives in Ventress.
She succeeded her husband’s uncle, Dan Kimball, in 1983 to become the first woman elected to the 18th Judicial District Court for Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge parishes.
“To put that in perspective, almost 40 years, later, I’m only the fourth female and we have the third female (District Judge Elizabeth Engolio) also here, and we’ve been elected only during the last five years,” said District Judge Tonya Lurry, who presided over the ceremony. “So, to say that happened 40 years ago is very impressive.”
Kimball was also the first female attorney to have a law office in New Roads.
She carried all 12 parishes in the 5th District of the Louisiana Supreme Court – extending from East Baton Rouge to St. Landry – in a 1992 election to become the state’s first female Supreme Court justice. Kimball served from 1993 until she became Chief Justice in 2009.
Her work ethic also drew the respect of her peers.
“In the Bible, it says to whom much is given, much is expected – and Kitty has fulfilled all of the expectations and talent God has given her and expected of her,” retired Supreme Court Justice Jeannette Knoll said. “I’ve seen her work unbelievably hard, and it was so hard for Kitty to delegate – and even when she delegated, she wasn’t really delegating.”
A stroke forced Kimball to retire in 2013.
Even amid health challenges, Kimball maintained her grace and dignity, Knoll said.
“God put a bitter cup on her plate, and I witnessed her going through this tragedy of a stroke when she was at her highest office in the judiciary,” she said. “Kitty handled it with so much dignity and grace – and that, in itself, is the sign of a role model.”
Juvenile justice reform and programs to help abused children rank as Kimball’s greatest career accomplishments, Clayton said.
“She believes that people matter and that no matter what a person looks like or what part of life he or she may emanate from, they should be treated with dignity and respect – even if they broke the law,” he said. “The platform we now work under was part of her work. This lady epitomizes the true meaning that justice is blind.”