Trailblazing Judge, Civil Rights Lawyer Dies

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge W. Otis Higgs died suddenly Friday (Feb. 15) after hearing motions in court that morning. He was 75. Higgs has been called a “trailblazing, brave civil rights leader” and an accomplished judges. His experience includes representing workers involved in the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike; serving as Shelby County’s first and only black sheriff; and managing a lawsuit that overturned runoff rules that ultimately led to election of the city's first black mayor. He served as criminal court judge from 1970 to 1975 and again from 1998 to the present. Higgs also spent many years in private practice, working with Walter Bailey and D'Army Bailey at the Bailey Higgs Bailey firm. A graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law, Higgs also was an ordained minister, most recently serving at St. James CME and Second Congregational United Church of Christ. Funeral arrangements are pending. The Commercial Appeal and Memphis Daily News have more on his life.