There was no doubt the evening of September 24 belonged to the Honorable Ralph E. Tyson. Tyson was recognized as LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center’s 2009 Distinguished Alumnus at the Country Club of Louisiana, before a large crowd of family, friends, classmates and colleagues. The gathering included members of the federal, state and local judiciary, three university chancellors and the mayor. By the end of the evening, the whole day was his, too, as Mayor Holden officially proclaimed it Ralph Tyson Day, and added “Honorary Mayor” to Tyson’s list of accolades.
“Ralph Tyson has devoted more than 30 years of his career to exemplary public service—as prosecutor, state court judge, and federal district judge,” said LSU Law Chancellor Jack M. Weiss. “At every step of the way, Judge Tyson has gained the respect and admiration of his peers. We are proud to honor this consummate professional and esteemed community leader as our distinguished alumnus of 2009.”
His long-time friend and former law partner, Judge Freddie Pitcher, Jr. toasted Tyson at the award ceremony as well. Pitcher, who is the chancellor of Southern University Law Center, first met Tyson during 1972 as both were attending a class at LSU Law.
“That was the beginning, which we didn’t realize, would inextricably tie us together to this day,” explained Pitcher. He lauded Tyson as a consummate professional, man of value, an individual with a strong constitution, a loyal friend, a Christian, and true family man.
As he accepted, Tyson recalled his early campaign experiences, as he first decided to run for a seat on the Baton Rouge City Court. He said he learned the most important thing in an acceptance speech—to thank people, especially his wife, the former Patricia Jordan. Tyson also attributed his success to the values instilled in him by his mother Theresa Tyson. She was present, along with his children, Chris, Todd, Eric, and Cara, and a host of extended family members.
Tyson, a 1973 graduate of LSU Law, currently serves as Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. In 1998, former President Bill Clinton nominated Tyson to a new judgeship in the U.S. District Court, making him the first African American judge in the Federal Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. He became Chief Judge in 2005.
Prior to his service in the Federal Courts, Tyson was employed as special counsel and assistant attorney general in the Louisiana Department of Justice; Assistant District Attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish; and for more than nine years, was the Chief City Prosecutor for the City of Baton Rouge. He was also engaged in private law practice for more than 15 years, first with the firm of Pitcher and Tyson and later with the firm of Tyson, Avery & Cunningham.
In 1988, Tyson was elected to a vacant seat in Division B of the Baton Rouge City Court, where he presided for more than five years. Subsequently, he was elected without opposition to Division B of the 19th Judicial District Court, where he presided over misdemeanor and felony criminal trials. From July 1997 to June 1998, Tyson served as the Chief Criminal Judge of the 19th Judicial District Court. During that time, he also served as Judge Pro Tempore on the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal by special appointment of the Louisiana Supreme Court from May 1997 to October 1997.
Tyson has also taught as an adjunct law professor at LSU and an instructor in the Sociology/Law Enforcement Department at Southern University from 1989 to 1998. He is a member of the Board of the General Health System in Baton Rouge, and has served on the boards of St. Joseph’s Home, the Baton Rouge Food Bank, the Audubon Girl Scout Council, and the Wesley Foundation at Southern University.