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As a civilian in Vinton, La., Danny Landry is an elected civil judge, but as a member of the Naval Reserves he is Petty Officer 1st Class Landry.
As a civilian in Vinton, La., Danny Landry is an elected civil judge, but as a member of the Naval Reserves he is Petty Officer 1st Class Landry. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Given how most offices are organized, visitors typically talk first with a receptionist or clerk.

Not in Sasebo’s Navy Legal Services Office. The greeter there is a judge — a hearty, gregarious jurist from rural “Looz-e-anna.”

Back home in Vinton, La., about 45 miles east of the Texas border, Danny Landry is an elected civil judge on the state payroll.

As a 48-year-old member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, Petty Officer 1st Class Landry is a legalman who arrived in southern Japan on Jan. 12 for duty at Sasebo through May 28.

“Being here and doing this work is really like a vacation for me,” Landry said Thursday. “I’ve loved it. It’s a break from sitting on the bench, ruling day in and day out. I’m actually able to be a free man who’s just at work.”

Vinton, population 7,200, is where Landry built a home and lives with his wife and five children.

He smiles almost continuously and said he thoroughly enjoys having a Naval Reserve job classification in the same field in which he works as a civilian.

Landry is two years into his second consecutive six-year term as a judge. He hears civil cases in Calcasieu Parish, population 182,000, involving property worth $3,000 or less.

He’s served in the Naval Reserve for 16 years. Until he also became rated as a legalman two years ago, he was rated as a storekeeper.

Before becoming a judge, he had a law enforcement career in Texas.

The requirements for the judgeship he holds do not include a law degree — just that a person be at least 35, a U.S. citizen and a registered voter.

“But you also have to have a thorough working knowledge of Napoleonic Law,” Landry said. Louisiana, a former French colony, retains a judicial system based on that French legal code.

The other 49 states’ legal systems are based on English common law, a system emphasizing court procedure and precedent. Napoleonic Law takes a civilian law approach, in which the judge’s job is more to interpret intent than to follow judicial precedent.

“I know that my work here is also beneficial to the kind of work I do back home,” Landry said.

“Working in the legal field with the military is sort of a feather in my cap.”

“It helps me when I look at how my own office there should be run. You can take bits and pieces from here, and bits and pieces from the civilian side, and you can use that to run an office just super. It’s enjoyable.” he said.

Landry is the second Reservist to fill the slot since the active-duty legalman who’d filled the slot retired last year.

“The Reserve support we’ve had here has just been fantastic and having him here with his experience as a judge is a great situation for us,” said Lt. Mary Thompson, a Sasebo NLSO attorney.

“He really brings a new and unique perspective to our office because of his position. He’s very knowledgeable and keeps things moving along like clockwork. We just love having him.”

Lt. Randy Vavra, who heads up the NLSO, “has been here two years and I’ve been here for a year. But I’m sure he knows more people around here than either one of us,” Thompson said of Landry. “It’s his nature and they remember him.”

Landry also is a Roman Catholic music administrator in Louisiana, traveling around a large segment of the state helping churches enhance, and sometimes create, music programs.

He’s exercised his musical abilities in Sasebo by volunteering to create a youth choir in conjunction with the Chaplain’s Office.

“I really enjoy it,” Landry said. “Right now, we have about 10 youths ages 8-14 in the choir, and we sing at each 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday mornings.”

“He just loves to sing and is generally just fun to be with,” said Lt. William Onuh, Sasebo’s Catholic chaplain.

“He had the new Youth Choir singing in just a matter of a few weeks … his presence here has truly elevated our worship through music.

“I will miss him when he leaves.”

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