Jean Landreau held the family Bible Monday morning as she looked at her husband, Buster. His left hand was on the Good Book, and his right hand was in the air.
Buster Landreau, a 57-year-old Phenix City lawyer who has spent the last 15 years as an assistant prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, took the oath as the District Court judge.
It was a proud moment.
And Jean holding that Bible only added to the significance. On April 10, the world Buster and Jean knew changed — suddenly and dramatically.
“I left home that morning and everything was fine,” Buster said. “One hour later, Jean is in the emergency room and they are telling me she has a 50/50 chance to live.”
Jean, Landreau’s wife of 38 years, suffered a severe stroke. She spent two weeks in the intensive care unit at Emory University Hospital and 10 days in a rehabilitation hospital in Phenix City.
Every day has been a battle as Jean, now 61, fights to get life back to normal.
It has not been easy for Jean or Buster. Her son, Matt, and grandson would play charades, more out of necessity than for fun. Now, the words are there, but getting them out can be an issue.
“I know the words, but they get mixed up,” Jean said.
A perfect example was a holiday weekend trip to Columbus.
“We were crossing the river Sunday,” Jean said. “I kept trying to say river, and I kept saying liver, liver, liver. I just started laughing.”
It’s a little easier to laugh now, but the Landreaus have weathered a storm. And Jean has done it by counting on — and leaning on — her husband.
“He’s my rock,” Jean said. “I know I have not been easy to live with.”
Buster has been a rock a lot this year.
His boss, District Attorney Kenneth Davis, has been dealing with his own personal struggles. Davis’ wife, Emily, was diagnosed with cancer more than a year ago.
Davis is a smooth and convincing man in front of a jury. But ask him about the last year and the role Landreau has played, and the words don’t flow as easily for one of the best trial attorneys in the state of Alabama.
“He’s been the one who has held my office together — he along with everybody else — but he has been the one,” Davis said, choking back the emotion. “And for that, I will be forever appreciative.”
It has been a tough year in the Russell County District Attorney’s office. There is no doubt about that.
“It all goes back a year when Emily was diagnosed with cancer,” Landreau said. “It has been a difficult year for both of us. Kenny and I both rely on our better halves more than either one of us would care to admit.”
As Jean continues to improve, she said she often thinks about Emily Davis.
“I pray for Emily every day,” Jean said.
The fourth-floor courtroom where Landreau was sworn in Monday morning was packed.
One of the common sentiments from those there came from Circuit Court Judge Al Johnson, the presiding judge.
“He has integrity, unparalleled intelligence and an unparalleled work ethic,” Johnson said of Landreau. Landreau is a work horse, not a show horse.
Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor has known Landreau since the early 1980s. And Taylor believes he has a good idea what kind of judge Landreau will be.
“I’ll say this,” Taylor said, “if Buster is nothing else in this world, he is honest and fair.”
That is a pretty good starting point for a judge, wouldn’t you say?
Davis, who has worked alongside Landreau since 1998, thinks Buster is ready for the job that was opened by the appointment of District Court Judge Michael Bellamy to the Circuit Court bench due to the retirement of Judge George Greene.
“He appreciates what a judge is supposed to be and what a judge is supposed to do,” said Davis of Landreau. “All you can ask for is to be treated fairly. I guarantee you whoever comes before him will be treated fairly.”
Judges should not make many promises, but Landreau made one Monday morning.
“I can tell you I will work hard, do my absolute best to follow the law,” he said. “Whoever comes before me will be treated fairly.”
All you need to know about the way Landreau will treat people is to look at the way he has treated his wife and his boss in the most trying of years.
That is a pretty good scouting report on Russell County’s newest judge.