In December of a hundred years ago, residents of Limestone County gathered to dedicate a beautiful neoclassical-style courthouse which since that time has served our residents well. A young teenager by the name of David Lee Rosenau was involved in the construction of that courthouse by hauling brick. Interestingly, that teenager was the valedictorian of Athens’ Greene University School at age 15, and became one of the youngest graduates ever of both Yale Law School and Stanford. He began his career at the age of 20. In 1937, he was appointed to the bench by then Governor Bibb Graves. Judge Rosenau spent the next 44 years hearing cases from his courtroom upstairs and retired in 1981.
One hundred years later, on December 2, bundled up citizens and officials braved the cold as they gathered together to remember Judge Rosenau, celebrate the bell house that has been created for the old courthouse bell, and hear stories about the man who was known to quote Shakespeare often in the course of presiding over trials.
Several local officials and dignitaries were present, including Limestone County Chairman Colin Daly, Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks, and retired Limestone County Circuit Judge James Woodruff, who also worked on the committee that produced the Judge Horton memorial on the west side of the courthouse. Jerry Barksdale, retired Athens attorney who argued many cases in front of Judge Rosenau, regaled us with stories as to His Honor’s “courtroom culture.” One of my favorites was the tale of a young man who had gotten in trouble with the law, and Judge Rosenau did not suffer foolishness when it came to what he felt was inappropriate courtroom attire or appearance. It was the era when long hair was the order of the day amongst the youth of our nation, and this guy was mighty proud of the length of his locks. The judge ordered him to get a haircut before he came back to court the next day, and the young man protested, saying, “But Jesus had long hair!” The judge retorted, “Young man, when you start acting like Jesus, you can have your long hair!” I don’t think that kind of requirement would be tolerated today in our “snowflakes-need-safe-spaces” society!
Even the Governor of the Great State of Alabama was reminded that Judge Rosenau’s campaign promise of “the same justice for everyone” was more than a slogan. An Alabama official from Montgomery had gotten a traffic ticket, told the governor about his gaffe, and the governor then called His Honor with the expectation of getting the ticket fixed. Judge Rosenau listened to the governor, replied, “You run your office the way you want to, and I’ll run my office the way I want to.” Then he hung up. On the governor.
Along with the bell house, there are two benches that are in memory of Judge Rosenau’s two daughters, Joy and Jill, and a tender tribute was given to the entire family by Bill Graham, who is the grandson of Judge Rosenau. Judge Rosenau was married to Jill Hertzler Rosenau for 70 years, no small feat in any era!
Our thanks go to all who saw the value of preserving the legacy of a man who was both a character and a man of character, Judge David Lee Rosenau Jr., 1903-1998.
By: Charles Joseph