KITTY KIMBALL, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT

Legal Lines with Locke Meredith

Special Guest Chief Justice, Louisiana Supreme Court Kitty Kimball Show 127

 

Locke Meredith: Hello, I’m Locke Meredith and I’d like to invite you to join me on the next Legal Lines, where we are pleased to have on the show the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, Kitty Kimball. The Chief Justice is going to talk to us about, frankly some very personal things that have happened to her. She had a stroke in January of 2010, and she’s going to talk about the symptoms that she experienced, but she’s also going to talk to us about what she was doing prior to that. She’s also going to talk to us about life after the stroke and the fact that she is still the Chief Justice for the Louisiana Supreme Court. So join us on the next Legal Lines with Chief Justice, Kitty Kimball.

Chief Justice Kimball: Thank you for having me.

Locke Meredith: I can’t believe it has been since, I think Gustav, the last time we did this. And we picked a building that still had a roof on it and some electricity, but a lot has happened since that time.

Chief Justice Kimball: Oh, most defitnely

Locke Meredith: Before we dive into what has gone on in those subsequent years, just give the folks a little bit of background on you, because you are a very unique, special person. You’ve broken every female ceiling that there is in the Judiciary, because you’re almost, the first lady lawyer, but first lady judge, first female justice, and of course the first female Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Tell the folks, kind of fill in the gaps.

Chief Justice Kimball: Well, I graduated from law school in 1970, and at that time there were very few female Lawyers. I clerked for a Federal judge and then I worked in the Attorney Generals office, and then we decided it was time for me to be a real Lawyer and practice. So I opened a practice in New Roads, which is where we live and I really was the first female lawyer in that Judicial District, that I am aware of. There may have been one that I am not aware of, but it was quite interesting, you know, because people just didn’t expect to see women around the Court room.

Locke Meredith: Well you were telling me a great story about when you went in.

Chief Justice Kimball: Oh yeah, I remember very well. There was an elderly gentlemen in Port Allen, that had been scammed by some traveling salesman, that had gotten him to sign his X, he could not read and write and next thing you know he was being sued for three hundred dollars for pots that he had bought.

Locke Meredith: In the seventies?

Chief Justice Kimball: In the seventies, and bless his heart, he said “ well we wouldn’t have been able to use those pots if I had bought them, I never said I was going to buy those pots”. So I went to Court to represent him pro bono of course. Free, yeah, his name was Ham, His first name was Ham, I remember that and I remember his last name but I don’t know that we want to mention it. But I remember going in the Court room and it was just a small little thing, and I turned around and the Court Room was full, entirely full. I think every deputy in the Parish was there, just because they had never seen a woman in their Court Room before. It was quite interesting. We won the case, thank God.

Locke Meredith: We’ve come a long way since then.

Chief Justice Kimball: Oh, have we ever. Yes, and of course there were no female Judges when I was elected District Judge in 1982, I believe.

Locke Meredith: And you were a trial judge for what about ten years?

Chief Justice Kimball: Yes, I was a trial Judge for about ten years. At the time, I think I was the fifth Judge at that level, District level that was female, in the whole State. So that was quite interesting.

Locke Meredith: Ground breaking also.

Chief Justice Kimball: Yeah, but I enjoyed it.

Locke Meredith: And for the folks to understand, the Trial Judge is the one that’s on the front lines, they have the folks coming in and presenting testimony and dealing with civil cases and criminal cases. You’re just kind of like the front line soldier.

Chief Justice Kimball: That’s right, and in our jurisdiction we did everything. We did criminal, civil, we did Juvenile, and we did family. We did everything. Some of the Courts, like in Baton Rouge had separated their court system so that certain judges only do certain kinds of work. But we didn’t have that on my side of the River. Every Judge did every kind of work.

Locke Meredith: So you had to know pretty much everything.

Chief Justice Kimball: So you had to know a little bit about everything. It always was amazing to me because it seemed sometimes, to me, that the public thought that somehow, by I don’t know, by osmosis, you knew everything just because you won an election, which I always thought was such a strange thing. But in some ways it was like you were expected to know everything about everything. Obviously, you couldn’t and you didn’t, but you defitnely had to stay up on what was going on in a lot of different areas.

Locke Meredith: And for the folks part of the role of the Lawyer is to the educate the Court, at least on their position as far as the particular issue in front of the Judge but the Judge at the trial level is deciding what’s right and what’s wrong.

Chief Justice Kimball: That’s right, that’s right. And we give tremendous deference throughout the trial, even through out the appeals. The courts below us, and we insist at our level that the trial judges are supposed to be given great deference, because as you say, they are the ones that see the people, who hear the people, who make judgements on who’s telling the truth and who’s not. You can’t make those judgements from looking at a piece of paper like you get in an Appellate Court.

Locke Meredith: Right, and I don’t think that folks understand always that an Appellate Court and of course The Louisiana Supreme Court, they don’t hear witnesses, they don’t hear testimony. They receive a book basically to read and documents, maybe photographs to look at to make their decision, but there’s nothing that takes place like at the trial level.

Chief Justice Kimball: Not at all, which of course is the reason why we give such great deference to the findings on the factual issue of the trial courts. Because they are the ones that, you can sit and talk to someone or hear someone talk and have a much better understanding on whether or not their telling the truth then you can when you try to read their testimony. And that’s all we get to do. At our level we read about twenty five hundred pages of testimony a week in cases, testimony or applications. Not necessarily testimony, I should say pages in briefs and writs.

Locke Meredith: Explain, you’ve been at the now, The Louisiana Supreme Court level for how long?

Chief Justice Kimball: Since 1991.

Locke Meredith: This is your second ten year term and each term for a Supreme Court Justice is ten years as compared with the terms for the trial court and Appellate Court.

Chief Justice Kimball: Well, the Appellate Courts are also ten years but the trial courts are six.

Locke Meredith: So you were a Chief Justice for ten years, excuse me a Justice and when you were elected this go around you were the senior member on the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Kimball: That’s correct.

Locke Meredith: And as a result you were chosen Chief Justice.

Chief Justice Kimball: That is right. The Constitution provides that the Justice with the most service on the Court, becomes The Chief Justice.

Locke Meredith: And of course there’s rationale behind that because for ten years you were learning the ropes and frankly on our last show, you were discussing all of the things you were doing, even though you weren’t the Chief Justice, and you were pretty much like the right hand arm.

Chief Justice Kimball: Yes, I had been second in seniority for quite a while. When I got to the Court, I think the next youngest Justice was eleven years older than I. So they all, in time, either retired or went to other courts, and it wasn’t very long before my baby status, when I first got in there, jumped up to second in line.

Locke Meredith: So you were not only the first female Justice but the youngest Justice at the time.

Chief Justice Kimball: Oh yeah, at the time.

Locke Meredith: Now we have more than you as the lone female Justice.

Chief Justice Kimball: Yes, now there are two other female Justices on the Court.

Locke Meredith: This obviously reflects more of our population, the demographics. I mean basically we are 50/50, male and female but we are still a little bit shy.

Chief Justice Kimball: Oh yes. And you know our Court really has changed a lot. When I went there, our entire Court was democratic and now there are Republican Justices and Democratic Justices. It doesn’t really matter, we don’t do things by party lines like Congress does but sometimes there are different ways to look at the same issue. And I think anytime you have diverse ways of looking at the issue, it’s a good thing.

Locke Meredith: Well, let’s continue this on the next segment. This is Locke Meredith Legal Lines with Chief Justice, Kitty Kimball. We’ll be right back.

 

Locke Meredith: Welcome back to Legal Lines. I’m Locke Meredith and again I am very pleased to have on the show today The Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, Kitty Kimball. Chief, again, thank you so much for coming in again. You were talking about how being a Chief Justice and a Justice of the Court, you are required to interpret the law and how politics doesn’t really play a role. I think in our last show you did mention though that you kind of noticed the disposition of the legislature and that may guide some interpretations at times.

Chief Justice Kimball: Absolutely.

Locke Meredith: Let’s talk about what has happened since we last met, because you’ve been through, probably one of the most significant personal challenges that a human being goes through. Tell the folks what happened.

Chief Justice Kimball: Well I think I’d have to say two significant challenges. The first was becoming Chief Justice, which you know; I thought as the first female that I most defitnely had to do the best job that I could. As, when I began that job I really did not learn to say no to anyone or anybody. My staff used to tell me all the time, “ Judge you have got to be more discriminating.” But if somebody asked me to come to talk to them, no matter whom it was or where it was, I went. Whether it was Shreveport, Monroe, no matter where it was. And I was operating during that time, we figured between, eighty and a hundred hours per week. That was an average. And I really was doing way, way, too much. I did not sleep, I maybe, if I got six hours of sleep I thought that was really an awful lot. I usually slept maybe three or four hours. I’d get up and work in the middle of the night. There’s many of staff members who got emails from me at two or three o’clock in the morning. I got up at four every morning and started my day. I just really did not take good care of myself. I was so worried about doing a good job in the job that I let that overtake what I should have been doing for myself. And as a result of that I found out what happens when you do that. In January of 2010, which was a year after I had become Chief Justice; I suffered a major stroke. I was at home in my house, and I got up in the morning to go to the restroom and my husband had planned on going hunting that day, so he was going to get up really early, and when I got up and went to walk across the floor, I realized that I wasn’t able to walk right. I kept leaning over to the right. No, no balance. I had no balance and I could not walk. So I sat down on the floor and started screaming for my husband. Thankfully he had not gone hunting because it was so terribly cold that morning that he just decided he wasn’t going to go. He was in the kitchen having coffee and heard me screaming help and calling his name and I told him “ honey, I’m having a stroke.” I knew what was happening, and I do not know to this day how I knew that, because I knew nothing about a stroke. My mother had died from a stroke, but it was after heart surgery and I knew nothing.

Locke Meredith: So you attributed it to the heart surgery?

Chief Justice Kimball: Right, and I knew absolutely nothing, but I knew that I was having a stroke. And I said to him “ honey, I am having a stroke.”

Locke Meredith: Did it happen while you were asleep?

Chief Justice Kimball: We don’t know, the doctors don’t know, they are unable to tell if it happened while I was asleep and then I woke from it or whether it happened after I woke up. We just don’t know.

Locke Meredith: Did your symptoms, because you indicated the initial symptoms were lost of balance, did additional symptoms manifest and show themselves or was that the sole indicator?

Chief Justice Kimball: Not at all, that was it. Now the month before that I had a few a little days where I was a little bit dizzy. When I was very young, I had meneires disease which is inner ear problems, and I assumed that was what it was. I went to the Doctor and I told him I think I’m having inner ear trouble again. I had this you know years ago. He referred me to an ENT and I went in and they checked me said I was not having inner ear problems. I know now that I did not know then that is a symptom of a stroke, but I did not know that then.

Locke Meredith: So they ringing in the inner ear?

Chief Justice Kimball: No, there was no ringing, it was just a balance thing. And I was a little bit dizzy and had a balance problem.

Locke Meredith: Ok, so is that a typical symptom for anyone having a stroke?

Chief Justice Kimball: It is, it is one of the symptoms. There are an awful lot of symptoms. I would have never, first of all I thought I was healthy and I knew that my family had heart problems but I had totally not considered stroke because I didn’t really know anything about it. And like I said, my mother had died from a stroke, but she had just had heart surgery and they said, you know, that was not an uncommon thing after a surgery of that type. So what I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that family history is very important. If you have a family member, like a mother or something like that, that increases your chance of having a stroke. So I have increased the chances of my children having a stroke. It’s just a horrible thought.

Locke Meredith: Chief Justice, explain to the folks exactly what a stroke is.

Chief Justice Kimball: Well, as I appreciate it. There are two kinds. There is a ischemic stroke, which is the kind I had, which is the result of a blood clot and then there’s the hemorrhagic stroke, which is the bleeding, something pops, and there is bleeding in the brain. Which is not what I had, I had the ischemic.

Locke Meredith: So, both of them result in termination of the flow of blood. But one is either because of a clot preventing the flow of blood in say the hose pipe versus one where the hose pipe bursts and the blood is leaking out and doesn’t get to the brain.

Chief Justice Kimball: Yes, and I know when I went in for all of my tests to see if I had inner ear problems, the Doctor sent me to a Neurologist, who said to me “Your left vertebral artery, which is a tiny artery between the neck and the brain, is totally blocked. But there is nothing to worry about because what we see many times is that there are two of them and the right one has totally taken over that function.” And we did the CT scan and all of those and there was no indication that I had TIA, which is the baby strokes people have from time to time, or anything of that nature, so everything is fine. So he gave me some Lipitor for high Cholesterol. I told him well I don’t have high cholesterol. He said, well just take this anyway. So I started that a month before. Of course I had never realized that, that was telling me all along that something was probably going to happen, but I just didn’t know.

Locke Meredith: And was that the area of where your stroke occurred.

Chief Justice Kimball: Yes

Locke Meredith: So interesting.

Chief Justice Kimball: They called it the brain stem stroke.

Locke Meredith: And so because of the termination of blood flow to that part of blood to the brain, what symptoms manifested themselves either temporarily, well lets chop it up, temporary versus ongoing symptoms?

Chief Justice Kimball: Well the only thing is that I knew I was having a stroke and it is so puzzling to me because I don’t know how I knew that, but I said to my husband I am having a stroke. He asked if I wanted him to call 911 and I said yes. So the ambulance was there very quickly and they took me to a hospital in Baton Rouge, not in New Roads, which was such a blessing. I found out later that the hospital, where they had taken me, is about one in two hundred hospitals, in the United States, that had the ability to do a particular kind of surgery. They went to my family, because I’m sleeping now, I got in the ambulance, started the IV and I’m gone.

Locke Meredith: Let’s finish talking about this on the last segment. It’s extradorinairly important.

Chief Justice Kimball: Sure

Locke Meredith: I’m Locke Meredith and this is Legal Lines with the Chief Justice of The Louisiana Supreme Court, Kitty Kimball. We’ll be right back.

 

Locke Meredith: Welcome back to Legal Lines, I’m Locke Meredith and again, I am very pleased to have on the show the Chief Justice of The Louisiana Supreme Court, Chief Justice Kitty Kimball. Chief, you were talking about what happened when you were having the stroke and how you were rushed to one of only two hundred hospitals in the entire nation that provided this very specific type of care for a stroke victim. Explain to the folks what happened.

Chief Justice Kimball: Well, like I said I was sleeping thru it all, so I learned this from my husband later. When they got me there, my blood pressure, which I had never had high blood pressure either, which is a very serious problem for the possibility of strokes. You know people who have high blood pressure really need to pay attention.

Locke Meredith: So we talked about the increased risk because of family history and now blood pressure.

Chief Justice Kimball: That’s right. Blood pressure is a serious thing.

Locke Meredith: And of course stress, lack of exercise.

Chief Justice Kimball: But they told my husband that they didn’t really, there didn’t appear to be much they could do, but they did have, as I was saying, the ability to do this surgery, where they go in thru the groin with some little instrument with a claw looking thing on it and they remove the clot from the brain. It’s absolutely incredible. These Doctors are interventional radiologists. Which I had never heard of before.

Locke Meredith: So they are watching it on a T.V screen.

Chief Justice Kimball: Oh yes, and they told my husband that was the only thing they could do and that my chances of surviving that surgery were about ten percent.

Locke Meredith: Wow.

Chief Justice Kimball: But without it they, there was nothing else they could do.

Locke Meredith: You were done, you were gone.

Chief Justice Kimball: So, he told them to do what they could do and they operated on me. The two Interventional Radiologists from Baton Rouge, for four hours and removed the clot and then four days later, I woke up. Which, I was ready to get up and you know go back to work, but the Doctors of course were not ready for me to do that.

Locke Meredith: So I had no idea you had a ten percent chance of survival. Even with the surgery, so without the surgery, you were going to die, and even with the surgery.

Chief Justice Kimball: There was a good chance that I would not survive without the surgery and a chance even with.

Locke Meredith: In essence, what they were doing was removing the clot so the blood could flow back to the brain.

Chief Justice Kimball: Yes

Locke Meredith: And what’s so remarkable and we were talking during the segment, that you have not lost any of your cognitive function.

Chief Justice Kimball: No. I was so very fortunate, of course when the Doctors told my husband that they were going to remove a tube that they had put in for my surgery, he said you better get some duct tape and they said duct tape and he said “ well she may not do anything, but she’s going to talk.” So sure enough, when I opened my eye, I only could open the left, the right would not open at all, I had to open it with my hand, and when I opened my eyes, I started talking. And this strange man was standing over me and asked me “ what is your name?” And I said “why do you need that information?”

Locke Meredith: Just like a Lawyer.

Chief Justice Kimball: My daughter said “ mama it’s the Doctor, tell him your name!” So I did. They started asking me who was president and who was president before that and you know some of those things that you see on television that they do to find out about your ability to function. I was so, I had so many doctors and I went thru a five hour testing regime with, it was a little later, with a neuropsychologist to see what cognitive abilities were there and I was so very fortunate. I did have some residual problems with my right eye and my left arm but I had no cognitive problems at all.

Locke Meredith: This is amazing because you were without blood to the brain.

Chief Justice Kimball: It absolutely was. And of course that is what gave me the ability to be able to go back to work. Because I was ready to go back to work.

Locke Meredith: I hear they had to tie you down.

Chief Justice Kimball: Well you know he said the stress and whatever and whatever and I said “ Doctor, you’re causing me stress by telling me I can’t go back to work.”

Locke Meredith: So the only manifestation was really that you or that you have now is that of the right eye and the left arm?

Chief Justice Kimball: Well my balance is still not as good as it was. I’ve went thru extensive inpatient therapy.

Locke Meredith: Months and months of hard work wasn’t it?

Chief Justice Kimball: Yes, it was. And then outpatient therapy at two different facilities. I did therapy at one facility and then after I was free from that facility for a while, I started having a little bit of problems with my shoulder so the Doctor said that was not uncommon and he sent me for a second round of therapy for my shoulder.

Locke Meredith: And I know that your family has been there, and I can’t tell you how many accounts of your husband, who is a State Representative, being there for you twenty-four seven along with your family.

Chief Justice Kimball: I don’t think I could’ve ever gotten through this without him. He has been everything. He drives me everywhere. I can’t drive. Some things I can’t do. Like little buttons on a blouse I can’t do. Sometimes putting my earrings in, he has to put my earrings in. He has learned to cook, which he feeds me all three meals, he always was a great cook outside, but he never liked to cook inside. Now he fixes my breakfast, dinner and supper.

Locke Meredith: The one thing you can do is still be Chief Justice.

Chief Justice Kimball: Yes.

Locke Meredith: Tell the folks, I know you just recently gave a speech, a report to the Joint Legislative Branch?

Chief Justice Kimball: Well, the Chief Justice traditionally has given a report on the Judiciary to the Legislature every other year and this was my year and so I was a little concerned about whether or not I would be able to do that. One of the things is that its hard for me to do is stand in a place for a very long time or walk distances for a very long time. Of course, standing at that podium, I was a little worried about how I would do with that. I think I did fine and I was so happy to be back in somewhat of a normal situation. The Legislature was absolutely wonderful to me. I’ve always had a very good relationship with the Legislature and I guess when I started out at the Supreme Court Twenty years ago or even at the District Court, thirty years ago, I knew so many of the Legislators because my husband had been in the Legislature for sixteen years, and I had always had a very good working relationship with the legislature.

Locke Meredith: What I found so remarkable Chief Justice is and you know we have this huge twenty five billion dollar budget and the deficit, and now all the monies that are spent, the Judiciary are 1/3, co-equal of the government. You’ve got the Legislature, The Executive Branch, and The Judiciary and yet the Judiciary receives one half of one percent of that budget.

Chief Justice Kimball: A little bit less than one half of one percent. The Legislature receives even less than that. It is sometimes difficult to do the things we would like to do. I think there are so many more things that we can do has a branch of government that we are not, that we don’t start to do because we are very good stewards of the legislatures money, and we don’t want to step into something unless we are sure that we will be able to finish it. I know when the Legislature started the drug corps program and they give the money to us to hand out in grants, so to speak, to different courts around the State, that have drug courts and there are a couple of different thins that they ask us to do with them and they have been really good partners.

Locke Meredith: Chief Justice, Thank you so much for being on the show. I very much look forward to having you come back.

Chief Justice Kimball: I’ll be happy to come. Thank you so much.

Locke Meredith: Thank you. This is Locke Meredith Legal Lines with Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, Kitty Kimball. Thank you for being with us.

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