Judge Donald Hebert

The bustle at the St. Landry Parish Courthouse got quieter and moods grew somber Thursday as word spread that Judge Donald Hebert had died.

Remembered as a gruff-and-growl but compassionate jurist, Hebert died Wednesday evening at Heart Hospital of Lafayette. He was 65.

Clerk of Court Charles Jagneaux said Hebert died of heart failure.

Hebert, who suffered from heart problems, sought medical attention Tuesday for a rapid heartbeat, Jagneaux said.

Hebert became a judge in 1999 and planned to retire after the current six-year term ended Dec. 31.

“Judge Hebert, or simply ‘Judge’ as my staff knew him, had a penchant for pretending to be a grouch but, in fact, had a heart of gold when it came to people around him and the people who came before him who genuinely needed help,” Jagneaux said in a prepared statement.

Jason Meche, an Opelousas lawyer who was Hebert’s first law clerk from 1999 to 2000 and who litigated cases in Hebert’s courtroom, said Hebert’s outwardly gruff demeanor masked a heart of gold.

“He had his faults,” Meche said, “but deep down he was caring and loving.”

Hebert was known as a judge who meted out the harshest punishment he could for those who mistreated the elderly and the young.

“You didn’t want to come across as someone who was taking advantage of the elderly or a child. Not in his courtroom,” Meche said.

Kenneth Boagni, a former Opelousas city judge, was Hebert’s law partner from 1982 to 1991 and later argued cases over which Hebert presided.

“He was very smart, knew the law and was very fair and impartial,” Boagni said.

Boagni said he was part of two hearings held Monday in Hebert’s courtroom. Boagni said Hebert in private told him his heart was beating rapidly.

“We lost a very good man,” Boagni said.

Hebert was a lifelong Democrat who served on the boards of various nonprofits. He served on the Louisiana Democratic Central Committee from 1982 to 1986.

Hebert was elected judge in 1999 in Division D, an election district that covers south-central St. Landry Parish. He was one of four judges in the 27th Judicial District, a one-parish district.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on July 11, 2014, to correct two passages in which Hebert was referred to as Johnson.