Making my case before the judge
I have seen a few judges in action over the years. I don’t mean because I was summoned to court. And I don’t mean on TV. Live and in person in their courtrooms. It kind of comes with the job of reporting the news. Sometimes that news is found in the courtroom.
I have not seen a bad judge. Some are just better than others. They all dispense justice and have been part of the judicial system that allows everyone to have their day in court.
Their jobs are certainly not easy. Sometimes it is a thankless occupation.
Sometimes court is mundane, spending the whole morning finding people guilty of traffic violations speeding and the like. Then spending the whole afternoon with an array of first appearances and omnibus and other hearings.
Then there are the jury trials, where the scene switches over to something resembling what people think court actually is, because it is what they have seen on a one-hour television show.
The truth is, however, that a lot of it is routine and not all that exciting.
And, sometimes it is just plain sad.
A judge spends a lot of his time at work dealing with people who have done some pretty bad and awful things. Some are downright nasty. And there are others who have basically made some very poor choices and are ruining their lives.
If you want to see what I mean, go wander over to the Faribault County Law Enforcement Center on a Monday afternoon and sit in on a court session. It will open your eyes as to what is going on in our very nice Faribault County. We do live in a wonderful place, but it also has more than its share of drugs, domestic violence and other crimes.
(Just for a note of clarification; I did mean to write the Faribault County Law Enforcement Center, and not the Faribault County Courthouse. Court is normally held at the courthouse, but on Monday afternoons it is usually held at the law enforcement center/jail. It makes it easier to bring the people who are in jail directly into the courtroom and not transport them across town. A courtroom was built into the new law enforcement center when it was designed and constructed.)
But, I digress.
Faribault County District Court Judge Doug Richards, retired last week.
Judge Richards was the best judge I have seen in my many years of covering courts. And I am not just saying that to win some favor if I ever have to appear in his court, because, obviously, he is not going to be there anymore.
Judge Richards had a way of running his court that was orderly, fair, and compassionate. He could be stern if needed, but also made sure that every person facing him understood their rights and what was going on.
Here is one story to show what I mean.
I was covering court one day a few years ago and one of the cases involved a young woman who was facing some serious felony drug and theft related charges.
She plead guilty to all of them.
Judge Richards asked her several times if she knew she was giving up her right to a trial where it would be possible she would be found not guilty or at least be found guilty to some lesser charges. She said she understood that.
He asked her if her attorney had advised her to plead guilty, and she said that he had not, and had actually advised her to plead not guilty.
The judge asked her if she knew that with her guilty plea she would be facing some serious time in state prison.
She said yes, she knew that. In fact, she added, that was exactly why she was pleading guilty.
The woman explained she felt going off to prison was the only way she could get clean and sober, and get away from the influences of people that had led her down the path of crime.
Judge Richards tried to explain to her that she could take some rehab programs while serving time locally, without having to go to prison. However, she was adamant. And, in the end, Richards had to grant her wish and sentence her to several years in the state penitentiary.
You could feel the compassion in his voice when he told her he hoped she would be able to straighten her life out, and that he hoped he would not have to see her again in his courtroom.
He meant it. You could tell he cared.
Being a judge is not easy. So we thank Judge Richards for his many years of dedicated service to the Faribault County community, and wish him well in his retirement.
And say kudos for a job well done.