Sixth Judicial District Judge Richard Wagner wrapped up three decades in judge’s robes recently. He finished up first in Lander County, on Dec. 16, then had his last court day in Winnemucca on Monday, Dec. 22, finishing presiding over his last Winnemucca case at about 4:45 that afternoon.
That last Winnemucca case was an adoption — fitting perhaps, for a judge who has spent many of his career efforts focusing on programs for children, youth, and families.
Wagner had time for only a quick interview Dec. 23, as he headed into court in Lovelock for his last law and motion day, finishing up his career as judge in his home community.
Wagner reflected briefly on a job he’s loved for so many years.
“I feel like I’ve fully given every day to do my job, which I think is what people working for the public need to do,” he said. “You just need to do your job and do it every day and make sure you don’t take anything lightly. Every case, every person is important; I’ve tried to remember that during my career.”
He doesn’t take much credit for himself in considering the years of work and the programs that have been put into place during his tenure on the Sixth Judicial District judge’s bench.
“It’s not about one person — the judge — it’s about the judge allowing a lot of people to do what they’re good at,” Wagner said. “My career hasn’t been about me, but about the opportunity to work with dedicated people, like those in the juvenile justice system and the many other agencies that work with people in our communities. I found the best thing I could do is turn them loose and let them use their talents.”
Wagner said the focus on youth and family programs in the Sixth Judicial District came as a response to his feeling, early on, that the people a judge sees before him as adults so often started out with problems early in their lives.
“My concern when I became a judge was that it seemed like we were always behind the eight-ball,” said Wagner. “I felt and still feel that our focus needs to be on prevention rather than on rehabilitation. Of course we have to try and do both, but we need to try to solve problems with children and families, influence those situations for the better — early on; that’s how the system needs to work.”
One of the most challenging aspects of promoting programs that focus on prevention is that there is no tool to measure the success of prevention; basically, to measure something that didn’t happen.
“It’s hard to know for certain whether the efforts are successful,” he said. “The challenge is trying to measure what bad things didn’t happen because prevention programs helped. You just have to trust your instincts to do the right thing — use common sense.”
In Wagner’s time on the bench, he’s presided over thousands of cases, among them six death penalty cases.
“There has been a man executed based upon my order. You do your very best to make sure there are no mistakes. I don’t believe I have sent an innocent person to prison,” he said, quietly.
“The job of a judge is to go through all the steps as outlined in the law, ensuring that each person who comes to court has adequate and appropriate representation, and then to make the right judgment; to make sure justice is done on both sides,” he said. “Everybody is always very concerned to make sure an innocent person is never convicted, but it is also important that justice occur for those people who are dangerous and hurt other people.”
While his last day in Winnemucca was Dec. 22, he completed his last law and motion day circuit of his 30-year career, as was befitting, in his hometown of Lovelock Tuesday, Dec. 23.
The job will belong next to another Lovelock man, Jim Shirley, who will take up the gavel in the new year.
Actually, Judge Wagner will have one more day in his robes — when he swears in new county officials.
Editors Note: Richard grew up in Hawthorne where he received his education, made many friends and where members of his family still reside today.