Correction: In an earlier version of this article, District Court Judge Kirsten Swanson’s start date was incorrected stated for December 2017. Swanson was appointed in October 2016 and started in Deccember 2016. This article has been updated to reflect that change.
Two Juneau judges spent their last day at work trying to tie up any loose ends and clean up their offices.
Juneau District Court Judge Thomas Nave and Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez both retired Friday, but neither has really stopped working.
“I am just numb because I have spent the last couple of months at a furious pace just trying to get everything done so I didn’t have anything left for Judge (Kirsten) Swanson to have to deal with because she is going to have more than enough on her plate being the only district court judge here,” Nave, 68, said in his office Friday afternoon. “Yesterday at two o’clock, I finished up my last project just in time to make it to my wife’s (Susan Cox) retirement party.”
Swanson started her term as a district court judge inDecember 2016 when the Alaska Legislature approved turning Nave’s position into a third superior court position due to the increased amount of felony cases. A district court typically handles misdemeanor-level infractions, while superior court typically handles felony-level offenses.
Nave and Menendez said they have learned quite a bit during their time as judges. Both said being calm is part of what it takes to be a good and fair judge.
“You have to have patience, listen to people and give them the opportunity to speak,” Menendez, 69, said sitting in his office Friday afternoon. “You have to respect the process. I have an enormous amount of respect for the American courthouse.”
Menendez, who was sworn in on Sept. 30, 2011, said before stepping into the courtroom, he has a moment to himself.
“I start my day before I open that door that I say to myself, ‘listen and slow down,’” Menendez said. “And it works.”
Nave, who had worked as a lawyer in Juneau since 1977 and was sworn in on Sept. 24, 2010, said his time working in the Juneau therapeutic court, an 18-month recovery program, has given him time with people who are trying to clean up their lives.
“There is an opportunity to help people and offer some direction,” Nave said. “To watch people participate because they are motivated to keep out of jail and discover they feel better about themselves and watching them transition has been the joy of this job more than anything else.”
Nave said because of the longer time required to complete the program, he was able to witness participants’ personal growth.
“They get to the point where they like to report on how well they are doing and what has happened to them,” Nave said. “They open up to an authority figure that maybe none of them have ever dealt with before. They get used to it and they like it. I try to be as encouraging to them as I can be. Every single participant I talked to for at least five minutes when they are called up.”
On Alaska’s high rate of recidivism, Nave said the approach of offering people treatment will more likely lower that rate as opposed to simply locking them up.
“Recidivism is always going to be a mystery,” Nave said. “It is too early to tell that with these newest changes whether or not it will be as effective as people hope. Sentences used to be so draconian, but now they are much more therapy based. If you take the long view and even if you have to force people into therapy and treatment of some kind, they are less likely to come back. If you just punish them and throw them into jail and say ‘this hurts, you don’t want to do it again, right?,’ that doesn’t work.”
Menendez said being a fair judge means a lot of work, even when everyone else’s day is over.
“It starts out as a job and that lasts about 13 seconds because you realize how hard it is and because you have to be up to speed on the facts and the laws of the case,” Menendez said. “As a judge, you are the final decision maker. Often times after making a decision, I will go for a walk, go for a run, pull out a book or listen to Miles Davis just to center myself. Often times you go by a courthouse and the see the lights on after dark because judges are working to make the right decision. It is a phenomenal responsibility, and one I have grown to love.”
Nave said he has some plans lined up for his retirement. His family will spend time in Oregon at their summer home on a lake and the travel to Montana to visit his daughter. He also is looking forward to fishing whenever he feels like it.
“In September I am looking forward to slaying all the cohos I can get,” Nave said. “It is hard when the seas are flat and the skies are blue cinching up that tie and coming into work. Now, I don’t have to do that.”
Menendez said he is not entirely sure what his retirement plans are.
“I have some things I want to do,” Menendez said. “When I get there, I’ll let you know.”
• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.