Judge Thad Heartfield

September 10, 1940 - December 27, 2022

Thad Heartfield, 82, of Beaumont, passed away in the presence of his family on December 27, 2022 in Houston, Texas following complications from surgery. Before he died, and at his request, Father Michael Jamail anointed Thad with the Sacrament of the Sick, gave him Holy Communion and the Apostolic Blessing, to which Thad responded with full awareness.

Thad was born on September 10, 1940 in Port Arthur, Texas to Grace Linn Heartfield and Gilbert Bailey Heartfield. When Gilbert died five years later, the petite yet capable Grace was left with three rambunctious boys, Thad being the youngest. A devout Irish Catholic, Grace took the boys to mass each morning. Thad began his education at St. James Grammar School and graduated from Bishop Byrne High School in 1959. His sincere and life-long devotion to his Catholic faith took root in this environment.

Young Thad spent much of his free time outdoors with his brothers, Gilbert and Linn. He worked for his grandfather, Truman Edward Linn, at Linn Motor Company in Port Arthur, but he was not conferred preferential treatment as the owner’s grandson. His first job was sweeping floors. With bright and inquisitive minds, Thad and his brother Linn were soon rebuilding cars for fun (and just maybe to make them run a bit faster). The brothers shared a passion for cars, boats and motorcycles. So great was this interest that Thad delayed entering college for a year to drag-race cars, compete in off-road motorcycle competitions and ride bareback in West Texas scrub-brush rodeos. Central to Thad’s personality from an early age was his zest for life and love of adventure.

But Thad wisely decided to pursue a future beyond race tracks and rodeos. He enrolled at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, where he met the love of his life, Cornelia Bozada, on a blind date. Thad said fortune smiled on him when he and Cornie met. They married, beginning a sixty-plus-year union marked by steadfast devotion, mutual respect and so much laughter. Thad obtained his law degree from St. Mary’s in 1965. He always said he had the very best motivation to take his legal studies seriously: his son J. Thad was born on Thad’s first day of law school, and he went straight from the hospital to the lecture hall.

Thad then returned to Southeast Texas with his young family and made a home in Beaumont. He was delighted when daughter Jennifer arrived, completing their family of four. Because Thad and Cornie were relatively young parents, Grandmother Grace (aka “Little Red Hen”) joked that J. Thad and Jenny did an exceptional job rearing them. But Thad gave Cornie all the credit for manning the home-front in those early years when launching his career required long hours at work.

And work Thad did. After two years as a Jefferson County assistant district attorney, he was appointed attorney for the City of Beaumont. At twenty-eight, Thad was the youngest person in Texas to hold the position. He eventually transitioned to private practice, specializing in civil, commercial and governmental law for the next twenty-five years. He was an accomplished, highly respected and well- liked trial lawyer—in other words, a unicorn. As the attorney for both Jefferson County and Drainage District 6, and later in two terms as director for the Lower Neches River Valley Authority, Thad was integral to the success of several projects vital to Southeast Texas’ economic prosperity.

Thad’s Depression-era childhood instilled in him an unparalleled work ethic and frugality. He was eventually able to spend more time away from the office with the people he most loved: Cornie, J. Thad (aka “Thad the Lad” or “Tad”) and Jenny. Although humble when it came to his own accomplishments, he took great pride in his children. His notes to them and Cornie usually ended with a tender message coined by a young J. Thad: “I love you too much.”

Thad’s adventurous, fun-loving nature flourished. He sailed the Atlantic with Linn. He discovered a love for SCUBA diving and took trips to Mexico with friends and family. As a child he treasured spending time on Bolivar Peninsula with his family, and he was now able to share his love for the beach with J. Thad and Jenny.

In 1993 a new chapter in the Heartfields’ lives began on a Sabine Pass speckled trout fishing trip. Congressman Jack Brooks said he was traveling with President Bill Clinton on Air Force One the next day and planned to recommend Thad for appointment to the federal bench. Did Thad want to be a federal judge? The Congressman told Thad to talk with Cornie, think it over and take all the time he needed to consider this monumental life change—as long as he had an answer by 5:30 a.m. the next morning. But it was an easy decision for the Heartfields and the government. In the course of the extensive security clearance and background check into Thad’s life, the observation was made that “everything bad about Thad Heartfield could be written on the back of a matchbook cover.” The Senate Judiciary Committee—chaired by then-Senator Joe Biden—unanimously voted his nomination out of committee. On St. Patrick’s Day 1995, the Port Arthur boy of Irish descent was confirmed—again by unanimous vote—for a lifetime presidential appointment to the federal bench.

Thad would preside over thousands of civil and criminal cases as a federal judge in the next twenty- seven years. Notable cases include a bellwether trial that led to the explosion of the patent docket in the Eastern District of Texas and a class action involving faulty computer drives that resulted in a $2.1 billion dollar settlement.

Thad was named chief judge for the Eastern District of Texas in 2003. He was at the helm when sequential hurricanes disrupted court operations. Under his guidance, the Eastern District became one of the first federal courts in the nation to implement online case management and electronic filing. During his tenure as chief judge, the district also secured congressional funding to create a new magistrate position and construct the Plano courthouse. A natural leader, Thad was admired by his fellow jurists for his expertise in forging compromise.

Thad maintained meaningful friendships with his staff and law clerks. There was a real sense of family in his chambers. He was devoid of ego or entitlement. He took the work of the court seriously, but not himself. He made working hard fun. He knew that having fun while doing good work is essential to happiness. Law clerk lore includes colorful stories involving chasing armadillos through bushes; the appropriation of a train; and many stories that are best left out of print. Once you worked for Thad, you didn’t want to leave. Longtime staff includes secretary Kristi Wernig (29 years); courtroom deputy Jill Veazey (27 years); and law clerk Mary Margaret Groves (22 years). All of his employees consider working for him a privilege for which they are deeply grateful.

It was not the significance of his cases or his accomplishments for the Eastern District that made Thad’s time on the bench so remarkable. What is extraordinary is that the robe did not change Thad. He continued to be the hardworking, humble man of integrity he had always been. He knew how to listen and connect with people, because he genuinely liked them. He was a gentleman who treated every person he encountered with respect—including criminal defendants. Thad had a unique ability to empathize with the lawyers appearing before him. He never forgot how difficult the life of a solo trial lawyer can be. (Because of this he was known to pick up unanswered calls to chambers. He never understood why the callers hung up when they heard a federal judge on the line.) He remembered what it felt like to be the underdog. He was merciful; before depriving any criminal defendant of their right to liberty, he scoured the record to ensure he reached a just and fair sentence.

Although he worked long hours, he continued to have fun. Thad and Cornie began taking annual trips to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. He looked forward to this extended vacation with Cornie all year. Thad embraced the invigorating challenges of hiking the trails of the Grand Teton. He and Cornie also took up fly-fishing, something he said she was quite good at. When Jenny visited her parents in Wyoming one year, she and her dad went paragliding together. He kept a video of that experience on his phone that he shared with delight. Thad traveled to France and Croatia with his brother Linn and went to Ireland with Cornie.

Thad also created adventures closer to home: chance encounters with alligators while walking Cattail Marsh, co-piloting a private plane flown by J. Thad, and fishing the Gulf of Mexico. Recently he and Cornie did NASCAR ride-alongs at the Texas Motor Speedway. In late November Thad flew to the Valley to celebrate his brother Gilbert’s 91st birthday.

Thad was a beloved member of his community whose wit and wisdom will be greatly missed. He reigned as King Neches of the Neches River Festival in 2011, and was a Gift of Life distinguished honoree. The members of his men’s weekly Bible study will miss his insightful contributions. Thad was a devout parishioner who enjoyed regular spiritual, legal and theological discussions with Father Jamail, for whom he had great respect and admiration.

But more than king, judge, “the honorable,” or “your honor,” the title Thad most cherished was being “Bop” to his eight extraordinary grandchildren. He placed their pictures under the glass on his desk so they were with him throughout his day. Their handwritten notes were tucked in places where he could see them. His eyes lit up when he spoke about his grandchildren, and they were a source of great joy to him. They are the legacy of which he is most proud.

Thad embodied the Prophet Micah’s biblical counsel “to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” That scripture was posted in his private quarters where he could see it each day. Those principles were central to his identity. In words borrowed from Hamlet, “we shall not look upon [a man of] his like again.” Although the legal community has lost an esteemed giant, it is Thad the husband, Thad the father, Thad the grandfather and Thad the friend whose absence will be missed the most. There is no doubt that all the trumpets sounded as he passed to the other side.

Many are left to cherish the memory of this remarkable man. He is survived by his wife of over sixty years Cornelia Bozada Heartfield; his son J. Thad Heartfield and wife Melanie of Beaumont, Texas; and his daughter Jennifer Heartfield Fleming and husband Scott of Heath, Texas. He leaves behind eight adored grandchildren: Hannah Grace Heartfield, Claire Heartfield, Bailey Heartfield, Aidan Heartfield, Patrick Fleming, Cole Fleming, Isabelle Fleming and Gracie Fleming. His older brother, Dr. Gilbert Bailey Heartfield and wife Yolanda of McAllen, Texas, also survive him, as do many nieces and nephews.

A gathering of Judge Heartfield’s family and friends will be from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., with a time to share at 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, January 3, 2023, at Broussard’s, 2000 McFaddin Avenue, Beaumont. A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m., Wednesday, January 4, 2023, at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica, 700 Jefferson Street, Beaumont. Following Mass, all are invited to a gathering in the Cathedral Center to celebrate Thad’s extraordinary life. His cremation arrangements will be handled through Broussard’s Crematorium, under the direction of Broussard’s, Beaumont.

In lieu of customary remembrances for those so desiring, memorial contributions can be made in Thad’s memory to Some Other Place, 590 Center Street, Beaumont, Texas 77701, or a charity of their choice.

Video

Gathering of Family and Friends

Broussard’s Mortuary McFaddin Ave.
  • 2000, Mcfaddin Avenue, Beaumont, Texas, 77701,
  • January 3, 2023
  • 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Time to Share

Broussard’s Mortuary McFaddin Ave.
  • 2000, Mcfaddin Avenue, Beaumont, Texas, 77701,
  • January 3, 2023
  • 6:00 pm

Funeral Mass

St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica
  • 700, Jefferson St, Beaumont, TX, 77701,
  • January 4, 2023
  • 11:00 am

Comments (25)

    Becky & Rodney Ames says:

    What a loss of an individual that we called a friend as well as a rare breed in the judicial system.

    First class judge, individual and family.

    A big loss to our community and thoughts/prayers/condolences with the family.

    Naomi Standifer says:

    I am so sorry to read this. Mr. Heartfield was such a fantastic man, always on an adventure with a story to share. Many prayers for all of the Heartfields.

    Robert Stroder says:

    So sorry to hear about the loss of my friend. Just know that the loss is immeasurable but so is the love left behind. Take comfort in knowing that there is one more angel above us. May the peace that comes from the memories of love shared comfort the family now and in the days ahead.

    Suzanne Wolfrom says:

    My deepest sympathies and love to Cornie, Thad, Jennifer and family. I was truly blessed by my encounters with Thad over the years (and Cornie)! You could always count on his sparkle in his eye and a funny or encouraging remark when you were fortunate to cross paths. Thad was a guy I always enjoyed speaking with. He kept life’s priorities in the right order. He had the love of his life, Cornie, by his side and never hesitated to share a story of his family! Thad knew how to make others feel valued and loved always. May his spirit live fully through those he cherished most. Quite a legacy!
    “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Mathew 25:21

    Pat Abshire says:

    Judge was a long time personal training client of mine for the past 15+ years. Hearing of his passing was a total shock to me and all of us at the Wellness Center who new him, being in such great shape physically for his age. He was like a 2nd father to me. I will forever miss his wit, wisdom and willingness to let me have the privilege of training him all of these years. I will cherish our weekly conversations during our training sessions the rest of my life. The world lost one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. He will be missed dearly. Rest in peace sir. Keep an eye out for us down here when you can. Thanks for everything judge. See you on the other side. -Rest in eternal peace. -Pat

    Angie McClelland says:

    What a wonderful man and a life lived . My condolences to the entire family .

    Tonya Renee Brown-Nembhard says:

    My son Andre worked for Judge Heartfield 2 summers and was sworn in as a new lawyer by the judge. He was so very kind and gracious! He definitely bragged on his family and showed off his photos kept safe under glass. Southeast Texas will have a large void with Judge Heartfield gone.

    Dr. Ed Collins says:

    So sorry to hear about the judge.

    He and I had numerous long conversations which included much laughter. I always looked forward to seeing Thad.

    Condolences to Cornie and family.

    Bonnie Spotts says:

    I am still reeling from the news of Thad’s passing and with great sorrow offer my condolences to Cornie, Tad, and Jennifer and the entire family. You guys were the light of his life. And what a life he had – full of love , laughter, and adventure.
    Thad was a great boss, mentor and friend. He had a profound impact on my life and the lives of many others.
    Thad’s success as a lawyer and judge will be memorialized in “the books,” but his greatest accomplishment, the man of character that he was, will live on in each of us who loved and admired him. He ran his race with honor and humility and left a mark on all who knew him.
    May we all be comforted by fond memories of him and the knowledge that we will see him again on the other side.
    Cornie, May God hold you in the palm of his hand and continue to comfort you in the days to come.

    Thad, Farewell, dear friend, until we meet again.
    Bonnie

    John Nelson says:

    What a terrible loss for all who ever knew Thad the Dad. Great fun, always stimulating, constant friend. Anne and I loved him! Cornie is in my heart.

    Stephen & Kathleen Richings says:

    We are just devastated to hear of Thad’s passing. He was such a noble and faith filled man who meant so much to so many. Cornie, you and your family are in our thoughts and prayers at this most difficult time. May he rest in peace and may the perpetual light shine upon him🙏🏼

    Jennifer Gordy says:

    God bless each of you. What a great man and and even greater loss for those of us left behind. Lots of love and peace. Jennifer

    Guy Heartfield says:

    I love and miss you Uncle Thad. As I look back, you were (are) one of the highlights of my life. You were always there for me and I will never forget it. You were my “coolest” uncle and we shared so many laughs together. I loved our weekly phone calls and appreciated the fact that I somewhat reminded you of my Dad – your brother. I will think about you and miss you every day for the rest of my life. As promised, I will now have weekly conversations, laughs and tears with Cornie (your best friend) to always celebrate you and the incredible person that you were. Please give my love to my Dad, Suggie, my Mom and all of our deceased family in Heaven. I love you Uncle Thad❤️

    Don Kelly says:

    A great public servant, a great family man, and a great friend of 50 years! Thad enriched South East Texas with his life, legacy and love! My deepest condolences to his beloved family and many friends!
    — Don Kelly

    Dale Smart says:

    Thad was my close freind and attorney for many years. Thad was a man who could carry on in depth conversation as well as one who enjoyed good humor, always ready for a good laugh. The Thad I knew will be deeply missed. My heart goes out to Cornie as well as all his family.
    What a loss. I consider it a real prevelege to have known the man Thad Heartfield.

    Karl C. Hoppess says:

    I Offer:
    In memory of the Honor, Integrity and Brilliance Senior Federal District Judge Thad Heartfield brought to the Legal Profession and especially to the Judiciary of the State of Texas and The United States of America; Pass, knowing Old Friend that under your Guidance and Judgement Equity, Acknowledgement of Truth and Justice grew and achieved Ultimate Importance.

    Karl C. Hoppess

    Susan+Simmons says:

    We are just devastated. Thad was a special friend. I think he and Jimmy were soul mates. We had such a great visit with him recently and he said “ Jimmy still has it” ,referring to his ability to play his clarinet, and I love you guys.” We will treasure those few moments and words for the future to come. How important a few words can become and how often we should take the time to say them. We hugged and vowed to get together soon. We love you Cornie and Jennifer and Tad and your families. God Bless all of you with peace and strength and understanding in the days to come. Love, Susan and Jimmy

    Floyd & Patti McSpadden says:

    Cornie and family, Patti and I send our love and deepest sympathy to you. I will continue to hold close my time with Thad during our Tuesday morning Bible Group sessions. I learned so much from him and was inspired by his deep faith and compassion for others. We ask God’s blessings for comfort and strength for you and your family in the days ahead. Floyd & Patti McSpadden

    Barbara & Fred Kristiansen says:

    Cornie,and family,
    We are so very sorry to hear about Thad. Our prayers are with you all. So glad we got to visit a few weeks ago at Walgreens. We had lots of fun in years past. Deep sea fishing trips down in Freeport with the OCB group comes in mind. He was a great person.

    Mark Sparks says:

    Judge Heartfield was literally my single biggest secret man-crush I ever had. He was kind, smart, and empathetic—things that made him an incredible person, that translated into an incredible judge. He was my mentor, my friend, my boss—he was everything I wanted to be as a person and lawyer. I already miss his intoxicating laugh and the crazy things he would say to get us all going. This world, and me, are now for the moment truly worse off having lost him—but for the long haul are all far better off for having known him. What an absolutely incredible human being.

    Don Bush says:

    So sad to hear about Thad. My condolences to Cornie and family He represented the same best qualities of a long line of distinguished judges to sit in the Eastern Distrct of Texas .He had a gracious wit and a great sense of humor. He was fair, just and humble . He was a great judge and friend. He will be missed -Don Bush

    Joanne Leong-Pierce says:

    I am saddened to hear of Thad’s passing. We shared a love of family, gym friends and the great outdoors. I will miss sharing my Canadian hiking stories and hearing about his adventures in the Grand Tetons.
    He was always kind and I consider myself fortunate and blessed to have called him a friend.
    May his friends and family find comfort in fond memories.

    Randy Trahan says:

    Thad was always so much fun to be with. I will miss his wit and humor. Beaumont lost a great man. May he Rest in Peace.

    Louis Blanda says:

    Judge Heartfield was always a favorite when he came to Jack’s Pak-It. We will miss his friendship and humor. Also, each lottery drawing will bring a memory of him, as he always bought one ticket for the prize money. He always said it just takes one ticket to win!
    God’s blessing for a great man!

    John Everett says:

    I’m so sorry to hear this sad news about one of my very favorite friends and relatives. Thad was always the best and I find it impossible to believe he is no longer here. I know he will be waiting in heaven and watching over all of his family and friends. God Bless All.

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