Retired U.S. District Judge Frederick J.R. Heebe, who served as the chief judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana for more than 20 years, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 91.
Over the course of 30 years on the federal bench, Heebe ruled on numerous civil rights cases, handled cases involving historic preservation in the French Quarter and played a minor role in Orleans Parish District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Born in Gretna in 1922, Heebe served as a Jefferson Parish councilman and state judge before being tapped for the federal bench.
Serving on the court through much of the civil rights era, he ruled on cases involving public school desegregation, employment and housing discrimination and voting rights, including a case in which he ruled that electing only at-large council members in Plaquemines Parish discriminated against black residents.
Heebe also ruled in cases involving reapportionment and protests against the Vietnam War.
He sided with New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw, ordering Garrison to stop prosecuting him as part of his investigation into Kennedy’s killing after a jury had found Shaw innocent of conspiring to kill the president.
Heebe graduated from Fortier High School and Tulane University before serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was wounded on Okinawa and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
After the war, Heebe earned his law degree from Tulane and went into private practice. He also served two years as a parish councilman and six years as a state judge before being nominated for the federal bench by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966.
He became chief judge in 1972 and served as a full-time jurist until taking on part-time “senior status” in 1992, on his 70th birthday. He retired fully in 1996 due to health issues.
Heebe’s son, lawyer and businessman Fred Heebe, is a former Jefferson Parish prosecutor and was once seen as the front-runner for appointment as U.S. attorney in New Orleans. Ironically, the younger Heebe wound up in the cross-hairs of federal prosecutors for alleged corruption tied to the River Birch Landfill he owned. That case was dropped by the government after Heebe revealed that several high-ranking federal prosecutors had been posting anonymous online comments about cases they were working on.
In addition to his son, Heebe is survived by his wife, the former Doris Dedeaux Stewart; a daughter, Adrea Dee Heebe; two stepchildren, Glennda Bach and Earl Stewart Jr.; 11 grandchildren and stepgrandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd., followed by a memorial service. Burial will be private.