Judge Carl B Anderson Jr. would have been content to let his 36 years of service come to an end with silent resolution, fading into the background like the black and white photos of the judges that preceded that hang in the courthouse hall.
Anderson reluctantly posed for pictures Tuesday, his black robe drawn around him for one of the last times in courtroom where he heard innumerable cases.
The photographer tried to prompt a smile.
“I never smile in court,” he said.
“Not even during weddings?”
“I made a deal with the clergy — they could marry them, and I would divorce them,” he said.
He noted one instance in which he did both. A couple came to his courtroom for a divorce after 50 years of marriage, which he granted. The same couple returned after two years, saying they had made a horrible mistake and asked to be remarried. He presided over their ceremony.
Although Anderson had to sometimes be tough in court, fellow 9th District Court Judge Richard Walker noted his humor.
“He is very warm and personable,” he said. “Judges can't be friendly with everybody. You have to keep your distance. When he was on bench but dealing staff outside adjudication, he was always friendly, had a great sense of humor and was always ready for a joke.”
'I am determined to walk again'
The last few months have been nothing to joke about for Anderson, who has been plagued by worsening health problems.
Anderson, 66, and a lifelong diabetic, lost his second leg to diabetes in March and recently started dialysis.
Anderson lost his right leg eight years ago and learned to walk proficiently using a prothesis. However, his left leg has failed to completely heal, a complication often faced by diabetics, and he has been forced to use a wheelchair.
“(It was) not (hard) when I lost my right leg,” he said. “It took very little to get up. Once your leg heals, you can get a prosthesis, and I was walking pretty much like normal with one leg being lost. The second was quite a bit different. I’m confined to this silly wheelchair because the leg won’t heal.”
Doctors have told Anderson it will be a fight to get back to where he wants to be, but
Anderson said he is determined to walk again.
Anderson said he would stay on the job, but forced to take pain medication, he was concerned about the integrity of the job.
“It’s not fair to the job if you stay on. I respect the position. I simply won’t do anything to bring disrespect to it. ... I just want the job done right, and I don’t feel I can do it right, and I also feel I need to tend to myself in term of the healing portion,” Anderson said.
“I just figure my time was up — 36 years and if I would have been healthy, I think I would have stayed on.”
A pioneer in his field
Anderson is one of the longest serving judges in state. Walker has worked alongside him for 29 years and described him as a law encyclopedia.
“He has been my mentor — the person I have been able to call night or day to get sage advice. He has done so many different things,” Walker said. “For his depth of experience and knowledge, I’ve called him hundreds of times.”
Anderson received his bachelor’s degree from Bethany College in 1968, and his law degree from the University of Kansas in 1971. He worked in private practice in Sublette for four years in office law, but longed to be in a courtroom. In 1975, he moved back to Lindsborg, where he continued in private practice. The courts consolidated two years later, and position opened for a judge.
Anderson said he was unsure he would win the elected position. However, he ran and won a position on the bench in 1977.
“I’ve been here every since,” Anderson said.
Walker noted Anderson pioneered the use of mediation and settlement conferences in both civil and criminal cases.
“So many times, attorneys would come to me and say a case can’t be settled — ‘We’re too far apart,’” Walker said. “He settled the cases. Some of them were high-profile cases that everyone thought were exercises in futility. He was able to bring the parties together.”
Anderson broke ground when he allowed the public and the press into a juvenile criminal hearing. All juvenile hearings had previously been closed. The ruling was upheld on appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court.
Anderson also sat on both the Kansas Court of Appeals and the Kansas Supreme Court.
Putting personal feelings aside
One of the most difficult cases Anderson said he every had to try was State v. Jones. The case involved a man who slit the throats of his three young children. The family was from Lindsborg, where Anderson also was from.
“That case was very emotional to handle because of the sadness involved in it and the hurt,” he said. “That case probably sticks in my mind the most.”
Anderson gave an adoption as another example during which he said he was personally torn over a case. He said he often had to put aside his personal feelings in order to follow the law.
Anderson loves to preside over adoptions. He has an adopted son, Michael, and an adopted daughter, Megan.
However, he was once forced to deny an adoption because the birth father of the child was located.
“I didn’t want to deny the adoption personally, but I had to follow the law,” he said.
David Page, McPherson County attorney, has worked in Anderson’s courtroom for 10 years. He said Anderson’s professionalism and objectivity is near perfect.
“Well, I think it takes a person of great character. It is a tough thing to be a judge. You have to sit there and try to be fair and impartial to both sides,” Page said. “I think it takes someone of very high character to do that and do it effectively and honestly.”
In 90 percent of his cases he has heard, Anderson said, one person leaves thinking he is the best judge in the world, and the other person leaves thinking he is a dumb judge.
“One likes me, and one dislikes me,” he said.
As Anderson nears his retirement date on Friday, he said he hopes he will be remembered by those whose cases he heard as a man who sought balance.
“I just hope they felt I had listened and that I had tried to follow the law and tried to be fair,” he said.