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Retired 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Chief Judge Melvin Shortess died Friday after a lengthy illness.

Shortess, who retired from the appellate court in 2000 after 10 years as its chief judge, was 86. 

Those who worked with him remember him as a scholar and a mentor.

"Truly, in every sense of the word, he was a scholar of the law and a wonderful, remarkable person," said Judge Vanessa Guidry-Whipple, chief judge of the appeals court. 

"One of the things he should truly be remembered for was how kind he was to the judges who came after him," she said.

A native of Cedar Falls, Iowa, Shortess moved to Baton Rouge with his family as a child. He graduated from LSU in 1955 and from the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at LSU in 1958.

Shortess was elected to the Baton Rouge City Court in 1966 and later served on the 19th Judicial District Court.

In 1990, the Louisiana Supreme Court gave him a temporary appointment to the high court as Chief Judge John Dixon was retiring. Shortess served in that role for two years, before returning to his work on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.    

The appeals court, with 12 judges who serve on panels of three, is "one of the busiest courts in the country," Guidry-Whipple said, handling everything civil and criminal "from dog bites to serious crimes" for 16 parishes. 

Guidry-Whipple was the first woman judge on the court when she was elected to serve in 1990.

"It was a time of change for the court," Guidry-Whipple said. "Sometimes, periods of change can be demanding, but he mentored me."

"As a new judge, it was particularly important to have a truly wonderful role model, and that was what he was to me," she said.

"I still aspire to do things the way he did," Guidry-Whipple said. "As chief judge, he never sat at the end of the table; he sat in the middle."

"I do that, too," she said. "He said he was just one of many, who happened to be chief judge."

The chief judge is the judge who has the longest tenure on the appeals court. 

Attorney Freddie Pitcher Jr., who was a Baton Rouge City Court judge and 19th District Court judge before being elected to the appeals court in 1993, said he reached out to Shortess after first being elected city court judge.

Shortess was there to help him through the challenges of the work in those early days, said Pitcher, the first African American judge on the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.

"He was my go-to guy," said Pitcher, an attorney who's now in private practice in Baton Rouge and served as chancellor of the Southern University Law Center from 2002 to 2015. 

Another former Baton Rouge area judge, attorney Linda Holliday, who served as a 19th District Court judge from 1991 to 1997, remembers Shortess as a "gentleman and scholar, a fantastic jurist."

After he retired as chief judge, Shortess founded Thirst for Justice, a pro bono project formed in association with the nonprofit Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Baton Rouge. 

"My dad touched the lives of so many people that he will be deeply missed by his family and the community," Shortess' daughter, Amey Crousillac, said. 

Shortess is survived by his wife, Marna Shortess, three children and five grandchildren.

Visitation will be held Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, with a funeral Mass to follow. Burial will be at Roselawn Cemetery.

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