Former federal judge Senter dies at age 77

Published 2:21 pm Friday, May 20, 2011

Friends and colleagues of retired U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter — who presided over numerous insurance cases that arose from Hurricane Katrina — are remembering him as a jurist who ruled fairly and with integrity.

Just weeks after he stepped down from the bench, Senter died at age 77 Wednesday in the emergency room of North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, said Lee County Coroner Carolyn Green.

“He was a very intellectual judge, but he did not take himself too seriously. He was always kind to the lawyers and the litigants,” said U.S. District Chief Judge Michael Mills.

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Senter ruled in the early Katrina cases that private insurance policies excluded storm surge from coverage. He also ruled wind damage is covered even if storm surge contributes to a loss. Insurance companies, he said, had the burden to prove flooding caused a loss in order to deny coverage.  

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers said he and Senter had been friends for four decades.

“Judge Senter had an excellent legal mind, the utmost integrity and was unfailingly fair. I miss him greatly,” Biggers said.

Senter served as a circuit judge before he was appointed to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. His full name was Lionel Thomas Senter, but he went by L.T.

From 1980 to 1982 he was a federal judge in Mississippi’s Northern District, and served as the district’s chief judge from 1982 to 1998. He took senior status in 1998, and began traveling to the coast in 2000 to help with the caseload there. After Katrina struck in 2005, Senter agreed to preside over hundreds of insurance cases.

Mills said he and Senter were both from Fulton, but what they had in common didn’t end there.

“I stood before him as a young lawyer and I was out of the same law firm he was from. I got his desk from when he was in the firm, and I later became a federal judge,” Mills said.

Senter was diagnosed with polio as a teenager and used crutches most of his adult life. In later years, he used a wheelchair, Biggers said.

“When he and I were circuit judges together traveling over north Mississippi, just one or two of the courthouses had elevators. He’d have to go up to the second and third floor and he would do it on crutches. He never complained. He never failed to meet the court when it was scheduled,” Biggers said.

Mills and Biggers said Senter didn’t allow anything to slow him down.

“He played golf. He drove himself and he was a delightful saxophone player. He used to be in a band. He was a real mentor to young lawyers,” Mills said.

U.S. Magistrate Robert H. Walker worked with Senter on the cases on the Gulf Coast. Walker said Senter “worked wonders” in helping resolve the cases — many through a mediation system he devised.

“He strove to bring justice and relief to all the litigants on both sides of the lawsuits, and I think he succeeded in doing this,” Walker said.

Senter’s office closed 1,421 Katrina cases.

Biggers said Senter’s survivors include his wife, Elizabeth, and son, Jay.

Funeral services were incomplete, according to Tisdale-Lann Memorial Funeral Home in Aberdeen.