The history of law enforcement in St. James Parish parallels the development of this area from its beginning by French and Spanish conquerors to the modern Sheriff's department of today, located in Convent, Louisiana. During this area’s very early beginning in the 18th century, Civil Commandants were in charge of enforcing all of the laws within the area. In 1807 this area, formerly part of the Orleans Territory, was reorganized into the parish of Acadia. Acadia was one of nineteen (19) newly created parishes from the former Orleans Territory; additionally, Acadia was further separated into the parishes of St. James and Ascension. Parish Judges then superseded the Civil Commandants; and later, Justices of the Peace replaced Parish Judges. The Louisiana Constitution of 1845 allowed for an appointed sheriff to serve a term of three years if desired. Consequently, the position of Sheriff changed hands often.
The carpet-bagger government of the Post-Civil War period did unceasing harm to the citizens of this area for years by stealing their lands, collecting illegal taxes, neglecting maintenance on public facilities, misuse of education funds, etc. Therefore, the need for a professionally educated, trained, dedicated, and fair law man was clearly recognized by the community. A "proviso” to the Constitution of 1845 allowed for the "electing” of Sheriff to office, and the people’s representative position of Sheriff of St. James Parish began:
Former Sheriffs of St. James Parish
Adam Livian Bourgeois, Jr
Sheriff Bourgeois was born in St. James Parish on March 25, 1831. Sheriff Bourgeois was the first elected sheriff of St. James Parish, his sixteen year tour of duty was from 1880 – 1896. Prior to his law-enforcement career, he followed in his father’s agricultural footsteps and became a planter within this parish. In 1872, he was elected to treasurer of St. James Parish and served in this position until 1874. After his term as treasurer, he was elected to the police jury and served as a member and later as its president until his election as Sheriff.
Sheriff LeBourgeois was born in St. James Parish on May 8, 1857 He was a well-educated person who also was a successful business man and accomplished attorney. He was a graduate of Yale college, class of 1878, and was also a classmate of President William Howard Taft. In 1896, he was elected Sheriff and tax collector of St. James Parish and served until 1912. While serving as Sheriff, he also prepared himself for a career in law and passed the state legal examination. He was admitted to the Louisiana bar in 1912. Later his former classmate, president Howard Taft, appointed him as Minister to the country of Haiti.
Joseph B. Dornier
Sheriff Dornier's tour of duty encompassed one of the most difficult times in American history, the war years of World War I and World War II. Sheriff Dornier devoted the majority of his life to the protection of the people of St. James Parish and is truly one of its great lawmen. In preparation for his role as sheriff, he served as Chief Deputy of the Sheriff's Department for twelve (12) years. His skills, reputation, and dedication were so impressive to the people of the community that he was elected to Sheriff for nine terms of four years each from 1912-1948. As a result, he is credited for forty-eight (48) years of committed law enforcement service to the parish.
Sheriff Brignac was a life-long resident of St. James Parish. He was born and raised in this community and his home was adjacent to the courthouse in Convent. Prior to his career in law enforcement, he was involved with agriculture, trucking, and lumber. One of his envious skills was his ability to quickly and accurately manipulate numbers in his head. This skill has been attributable to his previous career working with lumber, where the quick measure and calculations of materials is essential. He served as Chief Deputy prior to his service as sheriff and served the parish from 1948-1956.
Gordon J. Martin
Sheriff Martin was also a life-long resident of St. James Parish and one of its most admired and respected citizens. Sheriff Martin’s career in law enforcement began as a military policeman while on active duty in the Army during World War II. He served forty (40) years in the sheriff's department, eight (8) as Chief Deputy and thirty-two (32) as Sheriff (1956-1988). He was a former president of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association (1964-1965), and his work was critical to ending the once long-standing jurisdictional disputes between Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Sheriff Martin is credited with modernizing the department by installing radios, computers, and increasing the number of deputies to a level to allow for twenty-four (24) patrols within the parish. Additionally, he was a member of the Knights of Columbus, the Lions Club and the St. James Historical
Society. He was a "people person” who was known for his attentiveness and his ability
to command respect because of the way he carried himself. He was an exceptional
Joseph S. Nassar
Sheriff Nassar served for only one term from the period of 1988-1992. He was an extremely multi-talented official that was committed to the safe well-being of all of the citizens of this community. Prior to his election as sheriff, he served with distinction for 32 years as a member of the St. James Parish School Board. Always noted as a ground breaker from many of the parish’s citizens, Sheriff Nassar is credited with placing the first female deputy officer on the streets of St. James Parish with the same authority as her male counterparts. Forever in love with St. James Parish, he helped maintain a vigilant eye on the community and made himself available for questions or counseling regarding any parish matter until his death.