Hanging up the robes: Judge Houston retires after three decades on the bench

ABERDEEN – For all but eight years since Aberdeen was founded, a member of the Locke Houston lineage has found a place in its judicial system. The great-great grandfather of Judge David Houston III opened a law practice in 1843, which continued until Houston was appointed United States Bankruptcy Judge of the Northern District of Mississippi.
Nearly 30 years later, that chapter is closing as Houston passes the gavel to his successor, Birmingham attorney Jason Woodard. In those years serving on the bench, Houston’s biggest take away has been bad things happen to good people.

RAY VAN DUSEN/MONROE JOURNALRETIRING – Outgoing U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Houston III left the bench after serving 30 years as judge.

RETIRING – Outgoing U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Houston III left the bench after serving 30 years as judge.

“It’s fortunate to have a safety net for people in a bankruptcy situation in this country. I have felt empathetic for the people in these situations and it’s evident there is still a lot of suffering in this country,” Houston said.
Rewinding some years before such accomplishments as a place on numerous committees and recipient of several awards, there was a young man who would eventually follow in his father’s footsteps. From the Ole Miss football games together beginning in the early 1950s to turning a tassel from the same law school, Houston lived by a more rigorous schedule when first beginning his career.
His special agent training with the Federal Bureau of Investigation began at Quantico, Va., before his assignments took him to Tampa, St. Petersburg, Fla. and New York working everything from wiretapping, bank robberies, extortion and terrorist threats to airlines and even the ocean liner, Queen Elizabeth II.

“The hectic pace had gotten to be too much. I could look across the Hudson River everyday to see where I was going to work, but it still took me an hour to get there by public transportation. I was used to working anytime of the day or night, but I really did want to practice law so I came back home to practice with my father,” Houston said.
Houston reflects on his three years serving in the FBI as a means of self-directed maturity before his return home. He recalls his 11 years in private practice as a great learning experience under two great teachers – his father, David Houston II, and Claude Chamberlin.
Following positions mixed in those years as assistant district attorney for the First Circuit Court District of Mississippi, municipal judge and city attorney for the City of Aberdeen, Houston’s career took an unexpected turn that stretched nearly 30 years when Judge L.T. Senter asked if he was interested in being bankruptcy judge in 1983.
“Really I only thought it would be just a few short years and here we are 30 years later. Through everything I’ve done, I can truly say I’ve enjoyed every single one of my jobs,” Houston said.
With a caseload beginning with 1,500 in the beginning and ending with 12,000 to 13,000 when Houston retired, the growth of the bankruptcy court was one that helped Aberdeen’s already strong presence north Mississippi’s judicial system.
“When I took the position as bankruptcy judge, we were located in the [Thomas G.] Abernathy [Federal] Building downtown. For the first six months, the office was still in Greenville, but it moved to Aberdeen in 1984. As time went by, we were running out of space to the point we had items stored in the hallway,” Houston said.
In 2005, the Thad Cochran Federal Building was dedicated, which secured the bankruptcy court in Aberdeen for at least 30 years.
“The bankruptcy court has helped create several good jobs, which plays a significant role to Aberdeen’s economy,” Houston said.

Helping secure the new courthouse then is an item on a long list of accomplishments Houston has logged throughout his years of service. As a visiting judge throughout Texas, he gained an education in bankruptcy court through the oil and gas industry. As a committee member of numerous committees in the judicial system, he gained a credibility for more appointments.

For the past 15 years, Houston served on the Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget, which has most recently set a budget in excess of $6 billion for the country’s judicial branch.
Before retirement, Houston was the longest serving of the 11 committee members in the United States by one day and the only bankruptcy judge on the committee.
Houston was also the first federal trial judge to receive the Mississippi Bar Association’s Judicial Excellence Award, which he earned in 2011.
As for Houston’s future, he has no set plans, but did reveal the possibility of teaching.
Even in his absence of the judicial system, three of his four children can carry on the family tradition. While his oldest daughter, Laura, is pursuing a master’s degree in archeology at the University of South Florida, his son, David, graduated from Ole Miss Law School and practices bankruptcy and commercial litigation law in Nashville. After graduating law school at Ole Miss, his daughter, Beth, work in oil and gas in State College, Penn., and his youngest daughter, Locke, is in the middle of her second year of law school at Ole Miss.

About Ray Van Dusen

I've been with the Monroe Journal since Aug. 2009 as a staff writer, but took the role as news editor in late 2012. I'm always looking for interesting story ideas from around Monroe County. You can reach me via email at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.