By MARGIE NETZEL - email@example.com
Cloaked in black robes and sitting well above the heads of everyone else, Judge Richard Stevens looks across his courtroom.
After 30 years as the presiding judge of Western County Court, Stevens will retire on Dec. 31 to make time for his private practice, spend more time with his grandchildren, and maybe get in a few games of golf.
“This is bittersweet,” he said. “I have worked with some wonderful people in my time here, and while I am looking forward to focusing on my private practice, I will miss this courtroom.”
Stevens said he didn’t have any large ambitions as a young judge, taking his seat in 1982, when cases were scheduled just two days a week.
“I always took this job gravely seriously,” he said. “This is a part-time judgeship, but I was determined to give it all the time necessary.”
The job has grown, he said, and not just in the number of cases that come through the courtroom.
“Over the years, I can say there are things we have done in this courthouse that I am very proud of,” he said. “And I can say this job has changed significantly over the years.”
Stevens said one of his proudest accomplishments is the establishment of the probation department.
“The ability to establish an effective probation department was key,” he said. “There was no probation department here 30 years ago, and it was crucial to the court, in my opinion. Without the probation department, no one is there to monitor the court’s orders.”
The department, which is self-financed through fees to the defendants, “puts no additional burden on the court’s general fund,” Stevens said.
Western County Court handles between 4,000 and 7,000 cases annually.
Stevens said he is especially pleased that Western County Court has remained in Geneva as city and county officials inked a purchase and lease agreement last year. The agreement sparked a building-wide interior and exterior renovation, repairing cracked and falling plaster, replacing the roof and windows, and cleaning up the building’s facade.
“That agreement has served the county and the city very well,” he said. “This is now a beautiful building again.”
Stevens said while he had no control over what building the court would occupy, he was adamant that the court stay in the Geneva area.
“I am so proud that when I leave here, I know the groundwork is here to keep this court in Geneva for many years to come,” he said.
A Harpersfield Township resident, Stevens said he will continue to practice law in Geneva. He is married to retired Jefferson teacher Nancy Stevens. They have two children — Jason Stevens of Alexandria, Va., and Mindy Jo Shaw of Rochester, NY. Stevens has four grandchildren and said he spends his spare time reading and traveling to spend time with his grandchildren.
Court manager Mickey Mihalick said she will miss Stevens’ booming voice at the courthouse.
“I respect and appreciate Judge Stevens for running a tight ship at the Western County Court. He had high expectations of me and our staff and we all worked hard to meet those expectations because we respect his hard work ethic and knowledge of the law,” she said.
Mihalick said Stevens is “firm, yet compassionate and caring” and described him as a wealth of legal knowledge.
“But if he didn’t know an answer right off the top of his head, he went straight to his law books to find it.”
Stevens said he will pack up his gavel and fold his robes at the end of the year, but not before he is the guest of honor at his retirement party.
“I have had the honor to work with some very professional, very caring, very hard working people,” he said. “People who have become like family to me.”