Between 1964 and 1976, three brothers from Franklinton came to law school at LSU. France Watts completed in 1964, Richard Watts in 1973, and Charles Watts, in 1976. Their father was an attorney, so they just “went into the family business.” France took it one step further. He married Clara Sue Barnette, whose father was Judge Chris Barnette of Caddo Parish (Shreveport).
After law school, France clerked for the legendary Albert Tate on the Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal. He moved to Shreveport and practiced there until 1966, when he and Clara returned to Franklinton, where they raised a beautiful family – sons John and Chris and daughter Sarah. France practiced in the family firm, Watts and Watts, was a sole practitioner for a time, then formed Watts and Cassidy before running successfully for the bench of the 22nd Judicial District Court in 1983. He was re-elected to full terms in 1984, 1990 and 1996 and served until his passing, in 1997.
France was well-known and beloved in his community and represented it well over his lifetime. He was president of the Franklinton Chamber of Commerce and the Franklinton Rotary. He was a trustee of Louisiana’s Public Affairs Research Council and Chairman of the Board of the Washington Bank and Trust Company. He was a member of the Centenary Methodist Church where he chaired the board and taught the Men’s Bible Class. His passing at age 58 was a shock to his family and the community.
In late 2017, David Driftmier, Judge Watts’ son-in-law, thought he’d like to celebrate his wife Sarah’s birthday by creating a scholarship honoring her father at his law school. She agreed, and the Judge France W. Watts III Superior Graduate Scholarship is the result.
We asked Richard what his brother might say to students from their hometown who receive this scholarship in a future year. Richard replied:
“Judge Watts was not a ‘hopes and dreams’ kind of man in the sense that he did not verbalize that sort of thought. Rather, we can only surmise his philosophy by an examination of his career. I don’t think Judge Watts, or few others for that matter, began the practice of his profession with some deep love of the study of law, its role in society or as the basic underpinning of our Republic. As he grew in the profession, his views certainly matured to include these vital concepts and he valued his role in the essential work we call ‘the law.’ But in the beginning, he was just a focused, hard-working tradesman doing his best to support his family and be a productive member of the community. He took pride in his work. He never misled an attorney. His word was his bond. He represented his clients honestly and ethically. As a judge, he followed the law, was not swayed by bias or friendship and sought justice at every turn. In the criminal realm, he was acutely aware of the need to temper retribution with mercy.
This, I think, is what he would tell aspiring lawyers as they drown in their academic pursuits:
• Work hard and do your best. You are acquiring the skills that, well learned, will last a lifetime.
• Remember that your greatest asset is your integrity. Lose it and all else is gone.
• It is possible to misuse the law. Never be a part of that.
• Never lie to a judge.
• Even losing a well-argued case results in justice being done.”
Great advice for every new lawyer. . .