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1948 Jack 2021

Jack Hoffstadt

February 23, 1948 — July 19, 2021

If you are reading this, I have passed away. I feel we get our time on earth and then die. If there is an all-powerful being, then he/she will weigh my good and bad acts and decide my fate. This has been a long time coming, and I have had a chance to make my peace.

My mother’s name was Ruth Kentzel Hoffstadt. She was born in 1917 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She died in New Orleans in 1998. My father’s name was Elsmere Jack Hoffstadt. He was born in 1905 and died in 1965.

I am survived by my loving wife, Diana Rowland, my ex-wife and friend, Peggy Powers Mitchell, and six wonderful children: Jennifer, Shawn, Katie, Ellie, Ashley, and Anna, each of whom has become a dynamic person and are absolutely amazing. I am also survived by fifteen grandchildren.

My mother was a very intelligent lady who was a true child of the depression. She had epilepsy, as did her father. The epilepsy my mother had affected her ability to do many activities in life such as drive, work, and other things we take for granted. Treatment for her type of epilepsy was in its infancy, and a minimally effective treatment eluded her until she was in her 50s. My mother loved to read and, when I was a child she read to my sister and me a lot. Despite her travails, she was a person with an essential toughness, and she made sure that both my sister and I had the support to pursue our dreams. She traveled the world after her retirement and was an amazing person.

I was born on February 23, 1948 at Southern Baptist Hospital in New Orleans. When I was around two, I either fell or was pushed out of my grandmother’s car, and got a fractured skull. I think my sister pushed me out of the car, but she always denied it, and as it was an era before videos, I have no proof. I just know that 6-year-old girls are jealous of cute little brothers.

My sisters name was Ruth-Anne Hoffstadt. She was born on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) and died on October 16, 2019 of complications from Alzheimer’s. She was a good student and attended Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, Louisiana, which is the reason I went there. Overall, except for pushing me out the car, she was a good sister, and a great mother and wife.

During my childhood there were good times, but it was a crazy house. We had picnics, family gatherings during the holidays, trips to the Mississippi coast with fried chicken in the cooler, and one year we went to the Smoky Mountains. We lived in a shotgun house which had a swing on the front porch, and at night we would sit out there looking at lightning storms, or my mother would tell us stories. There was no air conditioning, just a big window-unit wall fan, plus the 3 channels on the TV, so the front porch, plus roaches, wasn’t so bad.  My youth was … interesting. For all of you who wondered about some of the crazy stuff that came out of my mouth, you just had to be there.

We were dirt poor. Every year before school started my mother and I would go to the Sears store on Baronne and Carondelet, and I would be allowed to buy three pairs of pants and two shirts. When the pants and shirts got ripped or worn out, my mother would iron patches on them. Honestly, it was not until I got to High School that I noticed the social and economic differences, i.e. that having patches on our clothes was not good.

After my father died we really needed income, so I got a summer job at the Southern Research Center on Robert E. Lee Blvd. It was a 2-hour bus trip each way, and I used the time to read, challenging my mind to work in a manner previously ignored.

In 12th grade, my grades improved tremendously, and I decided I was going to follow my sister to college, despite my counselor telling me that a boy like me needed to go into the military or trade school (I think she noticed the patches).

At Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, my world changed. I got good grades and made Dean’s List. In 1969 I became involved in politics, and was a writer for the college paper with my own column, “The Muckraker.” In 1970, I ran for Vice President of the Student Body at NSU and won. During the 1969-1970 Statewide election, I worked at various times for Gillis Long, Billy Guste, and Dave Treen. Now, so you don’t think working for candidates was a plush job, it mostly consisted of driving a car with loudspeakers on top announcing to the populace of a small town that the candidate would be at the town square to give a talk in 30 minutes. Real plush!

As my degrees from Northwestern showed majors in Psychology, Sociology and English (which qualified me to either work for the State, or a convenience store,) I decided at the last moment to apply to law school. My LSAT scores were high, but the truth is that my calling the Admissions Dean daily begging to be let in, and someone deciding to go somewhere else the last day, is the reason I was admitted. The Admissions Dean called me at 3:00 PM and told me that if I could be at the school at 4:00 the last spot was mine. I cried all the way to her office. So, thus I was in the 1972 Loyola Law Night School class.

I don’t remember a lot of Law School because, as a night school student, my schedule was basically work all day then go to school for 3 hours, study, grab a few hours of sleep, and then start over.

I had a lot of jobs during Law School, with the longest and most interesting being several years as a therapist with the Department of Mental Health.

I worked as a Law Clerk for a Judge for a year after Law School and then became an attorney for the Small Business Administration before becoming a public defender in Juvenile Court in the 24th JDC until I entered private practice.

In my private practice I initially represented boat builders, trucking companies, and personal injury claimants. We were open 7 days a week, available 24 hours a day. Then I had a realization, or breakdown. I was sitting in my office on Poydras Street at 4:00 AM, looking out my window and thinking about how to get more than 24 hours out of a day, when I realized that no good was going to come to me at the pace I was going. Also, as you might have determined by this time in the narrative, there is a lot of crazy going on here. The next day I called three District Attorney’s offices in North Louisiana and asked if they had openings. Within a week I accepted a job in the 4th Judicial District as a prosecutor and moved to Monroe. In short order I moved from the lowest ADA to essentially the acting First Assistant.

As an aside and as extra award from the demons of my childhood, though I spent my entire life as a trial attorney, I also suffered from paralyzing panic attacks (anxiety) in court that continued until the first witness was called, and then I was able to function. How bad was it…? As a student practitioner, I argued a case in front of the Louisiana Supreme Court. When I got to the podium I was hyperventilating and felt myself fainting. It was then that I realized I was pushing buttons on the podium to make it tilt backwards. I was clearly in great trouble when Justice Tate realized my predicament and asked me tough questions such as what my name was, when I went to school, etc., and then quickly excused me. It was bad! I learned to adapt, to survive, but it never went away. In retrospect, I laugh that I would always hear about how fearsome I looked when I was heading to court, when in reality it took every bit of strength for me to walk into court. Ours was not a profession where weaknesses were admitted--not if you wanted to survive. Thank goodness for Xanax then, and a more accepting culture now.

In 1982, I met Peggy Powers and married her soon after, and thus we made a family with five fantastic kids. In 1985 there was a new DA in the 22nd JDC (St. Tammany/Washington Parish) with whom I took a job, and I bought a home in Mandeville. In the early 90’s Fidelity Fire & Casualty Insurance Company asked me to be their in-house counsel, and I hired a staff to make it a going enterprise. This was during the time when insurance companies were going under, and insurance commissioners were going to jail. Fidelity had enough financial security to survive, but the new Insurance Commissioner was intent on proving how tough and honest he was, so he put us under, throwing hundreds out of work and me into bankruptcy court. I went from a Porsche to a 20-year-old Toyota very quickly. Two lessons learned. 1) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. 2) No, really, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

1995 was a lot of fun. Our house flooded two consecutive days, May 7, and May 8 (we had no flood insurance), Marc Morial was elected mayor of the City of New Orleans and named me a Deputy City Attorney (which also provided health insurance,) and in August I had coronary bypass surgery at the age of 47.

Alas, my marriage to Peggy did not survive the various travails, and we divorced amicably in 1999.

After 3 ½ years of working for the City of New Orleans, I returned to the 22nd JDC District Attorney’s Office, prosecuting individuals who were designated as “career criminal” which, according to the grant criteria, meant at least three prior felony convictions. Although the use of the Habitual Offender Act may have been bastardized later, the people under this program were dangers to the community. Being a prosecutor is very ego inflating, and for my own fragile mental health I would leave the District Attorney’s office every 4-5 years and go do something else, or as I termed it, “stand in the back of the courtroom.”

Hindsight is always 20/20. The 22nd JDC was and is a very conservative jurisdiction. It is made up of people who want swift justice for everyone else and mercy for themselves and their families. We became known for draconian sentencing, were driven to have over 100 jury trials a year, and a lot of people went to jail. As one wit correctly said, “Nobody ever got elected with a platform that they were going to make sure an accused got a fair trial.” None of us were blameless. Slowly things changed, and we started to understand that there were other methods to reduce crime that didn’t involve criminalizing large parts of our population, and were more cost effective. Now there are a lot of specialty courts addressing specific needs of people arrested for various crimes.

As a second aside, the greatest change that I have seen over the years is that people focus less on what is good about others and more about why people on the other side are bad. Hell of a message for our children. I’m pleased and proud that my own kids are raising their children to be good and kind and caring people.

So, here are my final thoughts on the present state of the criminal justice system. There is a constitutional right for the accused to have a Presumption of Innocence. What is wrong is if law enforcement, the court, or a jury ignores that basic precept by finding someone guilty just to send a message, or to show you are not soft on crime. In this crazy world, we have become so tribal I am concerned that decisions are made not on evidence, but on what tribe you belong to.

Over the years, alcohol after work became my friend, as it does with many of my profession. I have no excuses for the hurt I caused. My wife, Diana, is a saint. Years ago, when she finally had had enough of my drinking and stupidity, she had an intervention waiting for me one Sunday morning as she walked out with my daughter, Anna. I haven’t been perfect since then, but my life has changed so dramatically that it’s hard to imagine. Every subsequent day with them has been wonderful. To steal from Jeff Foxworthy, you may be an alcoholic if, 1) Your family is at home and you are sitting at a bar, 2) If you cannot go to any social function without having a drink, 3) If you’re ever used the term functional alcoholic (no such thing), or 4) If, after you got home, you had a fight that caused your children to cry.

I met Diana when she, as a Sheriff’s Deputy, was involved in a shooting incident, and I prosecuted the shooter. I asked her out, and on July 13, 2002 we were married. Diana is a person of many talents. After graduating from Georgia Tech with a degree in Math she worked in the casino industry, then became a sheriff’s deputy, and later worked for the coroner’s office. But the itch was still there as she always wanted to be a writer. In 2008 we decided to take the plunge so she could write full time. Now she is finishing up her 15th book.

But that’s just one part of the story. Shortly after we got married Diana, who was 36, said that she wanted a baby. I was 57 and said WHY NOT?

Anna Helene Hoffstadt was born April 26, 2004. She is the 6th of my children. She is brilliant, has tons of friends, has talent without compare, and has turned out better that I could imagine. Though we’ve gone through some tough times, she’s a great kid and will surely go far. I’m also very proud that my other kids never hesitated to embrace her fully as a sibling. Peggy did an excellent job of raising them, and I will forever be grateful to her for that.

I remember going to a seminar where the speaker told us to look at each other and to understand that each of us have problems and to reach out to our fellow man. I wish I had done more of that, but so much of my time was spent just trying to hold things together. I did not take care of my fellow man or my family as much as I should have, and that is a great regret. I hope the readers will reach out to their fellow men and women and offer that compassion.

On May 5, 2020 I was diagnosed with an aggressive and incurable form of Leukemia, which I assume is what finally got me. Tough break? Probably not, as at the age of 73 the clock was ticking anyway. When I got the diagnosis, I realized that it was just a matter of when I would go and how I was going to face it. I tried my best. Diana basically became my full-time caregiver, which is not an easy task. I had friends such as Blake and Randy and Jake who would check on me on me frequently, along with many others. My wonderful kids always let me know how much I was treasured. So, all in all I got a lot of love.

Be good to everyone.

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