Memphis Criminal Court Judge Otis Higgs Dies Unexpectedly.

Memphis Criminal Court Judge Otis Higgs Dies Unexpectedly.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge W. Otis Higgs, a pioneering judge and public servant, died suddenly on Friday. The lose will be felt throughout the Shelby County/Memphis area. Higgs' life is an example of the life well lived. Higgs was 75.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton called Higgs, "A trailblazing, brave civil rights leader. Ruby and I lost a true and dear friend. The judiciary lost the epitome of what judges are to possess — fairness, compassion, intelligence and courage. Memphis also lost."

Higgs had worked earlier Friday on the bench, but went home ill. He later collapsed at his East Memphis house, and was taken to a hospital by ambulance, according to friends and family.

Higgs was appointed Division 4 Criminal Court judge in 1970 and served until 1975, when he made the first of his three ultimately unsuccessful attempts at being elected mayor of Memphis. He was elected criminal court judge in 1998, and served until his death.

In 1990, Higgs served 82 days as Shelby County Sheriff when Sheriff Jack Owens committed suicide. He remains the only black man to have served as county sheriff.

In 2009, at the request of many, Higgs agreed to seek a nine-month appointment for interim county mayor but county commissioners supporting Joe Ford blocked him from receiving the needed seven votes.

Higgs also was an ordained minister, most recently serving at St. James CME. He also served at Second Congregational United Church of Christ, one of the more historic churches in the city.

In 2000, he told The Commercial Appeal: "I have been sheriff, a lawyer, a radio and television commentator, and they have all been about service. Now I am performing another service as a pastor and am trying to win converts for God in a different arena.''

James said his brother left Melrose High School after ninth grade to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta, but later came back home and completed his undergraduate studies at what is now LeMoyne-Owen. Higgs earned his law degree from the University of Memphis.

Higgs leaves behind his wife, Diane; two children, Christopher Higgs and Stephanie Higgs; and, in addition to Tony, three other siblings — Dora Smith, Betty Hughes and William James.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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