Mayor, deputy, attorney in spotlight at Law Day gathering

Published 4:51 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

The Southwest Louisiana Bar Association recognized a trio of community leaders Friday morning during the annual Law Day Ceremony at the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse.

Mayor Nic Hunter was presented the Liberty Bell Award for his activism and grit following the devastating hurricanes of 2020 — from which the area continues to recover.

“My appreciation for this year’s winner really began on the night of Aug. 26, 2020,” said attorney Cooper Fournet. “I spent that night watching as Hurricane Laura barreled toward our area with a feeling of hopelessness and fear over what was about to happen. I experienced Hurricane Rita, but that was when I was 19 and I had nothing to lose. This time around, it was different; I had a house, a wife, kids, dogs, and I was very nervous for our future.”

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Fournet said as he followed news coverage of the storm, Hunter was a calming presence in the chaos.

“He talked about what kind of people we are, how resilient we are, how God was with us, and how no matter what happened we were going to be back,” Fournet said. “His words were just enough comfort for me to be able to get to sleep that night.”

Fournet said “with 2020 being the year that kept on giving,” when the area soon after faced a second hurricane, Delta, he began questioning if life would be easier for his family if they lived somewhere else.

“We’re still here,” he said. “Recovery doesn’t just happen by itself, it takes hard work, it takes hard decisions, it takes grit. You have to be willing to know that sometimes things aren’t going to work out and you’re going to take some hits. (Mayor Hunter) is an advocate for all of us and he tries to find solutions for everyone — which is often an impossible task — but still he moves forward.”

Fournet said Hunter is making the area better, citing the establishment of the LNG Center for Excellence, improved drainage on Louisiana Avenue, the Partners in Parks Commission and Port Wonder.

“All of these qualities make our area better and it didn’t just happen on its own,” Fournet said.

Deputy Marshal Lee was presented the Law Enforcement Award.

Lee started his career in 1992 at the Jeff Davis Sheriff’s Office, where he served as a patrol deputy and criminal investigator with distinction for eight years before taking a job with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He retired as a deputy warden and now works for the Ward 3 Marshal’s Office.

The late Chantell Smith was posthumously named the Louis Martinet Society Charles Hamilton Houston Service Award winner. Her mother accepted the award of her behalf.

Smith, a local attorney, began her legal career as a volunteer in Judge Gene Thibodeaux’s Office at the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. She then worked as an assistant attorney general at the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office. Later, she became an attorney/mediator at the Louisiana Office of Workers’ Compensation, where she served for 20 years before retiring. After retirement, she entered private practice. She died Aug. 7, 2023.