After officially retiring from the post he held for more than 30 years in his native St. Charles Parish, former Justice of the Peace Earl “Pie” Tastet might finally decide to slow down.
But maybe don’t bet too much on it.
“I’m still cutting lawns,” said Tastet, 83 and a lifelong resident of St. Charles Parish. “My son helps me … my entire life, I’ve been on the move.”
After six terms, in fact, Tastet said he was ready for more. He was vetoed, so to speak.
“My wife said no,” he said with a chuckle. “She’s helped me so much and it’s a lot of work for her, too. So I guess it was time.
“I’d have just as soon keep going though … I keep myself busy.”
And how. Tastet served as Justice of the Peace in District 2 for six terms before his final run ended on Dec. 31 and he was succeeded by newly elected Justice Zachary Young. The Luling man and Taft native has been working non-stop since he was a young teenager first picking tomatoes and driving tractors for his father.
“I really took after him,” Tastet said. “He had nine children, and we all kind of did. I got my work ethic from him.”
Driving became a trend for Pie: he drove 18 wheelers around the country, working for Thompson-Hayward Chemical Company and later for Decker. He also worked for the St. Charles Parish school system and drove buses for more than 20 years, more often than not holding two jobs.
“He’s done nothing but work since he was 14 years old,” mused wife Irene.
Pie – a nickname he got as a young child when his freckled cheeks prompted the observation “he’s a little pie face!” The name stuck – also didn’t like to do anything halfway. During his time as a truck driver, he would take a turn as a jockey for a series of horse races, ultimately winning six of his seven outings.
“That was a lot of fun,” he recalled.
He grew up as a close friend of Judge Edward Dufresne Jr. and worked jobs for Dufresne’s father, who Tastet said “always had something for me to do” and treated him like a son.
When Tastet turned 50 and Decker closed its doors, he needed a new outlet – and career path. He first attempted to run for a position on the parish’s School Board, but he lost by eight votes.
So he moved his goal to being elected as a Justice of the Peace in his hometown. This time, he secured the election, and he held the position since.
“That time, I think I did alright,” Tastet said of that first election.
He’d ultimately work with the parish’s school board as well – and while doing so, he performed an act of heroism. Tastet was driving a bus carrying 30 Hahnville students when an SUV was struck by a drunk driver and propelled across a median and into the bus on Highway 90. It was a tragic day – the driver of the SUV was killed in the crash – but if not for Taster’s quick reaction, it could have been far worse.
“He swerved that bus, veered it to the right … (the SUV) hit the side of his tire,” Irene said. “J.B. Martin had let out, there was a line of buses … if he hadn’t have reacted and been hit head on, all of the buses in the back could have been involved.”
Tastet and a small group of students were taken to the hospital for treatment, but none suffered serious injury.
Over his time as Justice of the Peace, he’s most proud of his ability to help others over the years, be it marrying couples, guiding people for financial help or mediating conflicts.
“You’d get people and help them avoid being evicted, help them with their agreements … they’d come back to you because you helped them, and that always felt good,” he said. “When you’re elected and you know a lot of these people keep voting for you because they trust you, you have their respect, it’s a really nice thing. I’d like to think I did pretty good for a lot of people.”
Irene said her husband’s quick wit and even-handed tone brought people together, even in at-times bitter conflict.
“He was a great judge,” Irene said. “I’d never go into the courtroom. But I’d see people leaving after judgments, still laughing, even after an eviction/non-eviction ruling … he could still make them laugh and be cordial to one another. In 30 years, he had no incidents,” she said. “We always tried to make sure we didn’t leave anyone having issues without helping them first. I know he was happy to serve St. Charles Parish, where he’s lived all his life.”