TOPEKA —The longest-tenured judge to serve on the Kansas Court of Appeals will retire April 3.
Judge G. Joseph Pierron Jr., 72, joined the court in December 1990. Since then, he has written 392 published opinions and heard thousands of appeals.
"A lot of cases are routine. Criminal cases might not be exciting, but they're important to the people involved," Pierron said. "You try to do your best on every case, and some are terrifically complex," he added.
In 1977, the Court of Appeals had seven judges. That number increased to 10 by the time Pierron was appointed. Today, there are 14 Court of Appeals judges.
Pierron said the Court of Appeals is able to process as many cases as it does because of help from nonjudicial staff—research attorneys and administrative assistants.
"We couldn't get the job done without them," he said.
The Court of Appeals hears all appeals from district courts in both civil and criminal cases, except those that may be appealed directly to the Kansas Supreme Court. Most of the time, panels of three judges hear the appeals, and they travel across the state to do so.
Early on, Pierron said he encouraged his colleagues to talk to groups or students about the court system when they traveled to hold court.
"We were doing mainly lectures," he said. "I remember we were at Lawrence High School early one day, and the kids were falling asleep. I thought, 'We've got to get them involved,' and I had them act as the judges and lawyers in a case. That woke them up."
Then he thought a visual aid might help as well.
"I went to my youngest son, who had a large, stuffed dog, and I said, 'I think I need Spike.'"
"Spike the Wonder Dog" has joined Pierron in most of the 400-some presentations he has made on the U.S. Constitution and the judiciary since 1996. Spike helps illustrate a case that involved a drug-sniffing dog and how the case worked its way through the appellate system.
Pierron shares two particular points with new judges joining the court: "We're bound to do what the law requires even if we don't like to do it. And don't get behind; keep up."
His advice to any judge "is that you not only do justice but give the appearance of it too. You need to look at the people in your court, show that you are interested, and ask questions that show you know what the case is about."
He said he felt ready to do the job when he joined the Court of Appeals in 1990.
"I'd been a prosecutor 10 years and a trial judge for nine years, and I knew some of the judges on the appellate courts. I don't think there was any advice I needed that I didn't pick up immediately," Pierron said.
But he recalls the first time the Court of Appeals overturned one of his trial court cases.
"I was so angry. I went to my mentor, a fellow district judge, and he listened and then said, 'Do the best you can, and let the appellate court do its job.' You learn not to take it personally," he said.
Pierron was born in Kansas City, Kansas, and grew up in Olathe. He graduated from Olathe Senior High School in 1964 and Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Mo., in 1968. He earned a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1971.
He was a Johnson County district judge from 1982 to 1990 and a Johnson County prosecutor from 1971 to 1982.
Pierron and his wife, Diana Carlin Pierron, a retired university professor and administrator, live in Lawrence. He has three children—Sam, Abby, and Dan—with his first wife, Amy Dennis Pierron, who died in 2000.
He and Diana enjoy traveling, and he likes to read to student and adult groups. He said he will continue to speak about the Constitution if there is interest.
"Will Spike retire and where will he go?" he wondered. "Maybe he could go on display here at the Judicial Center, or maybe the Kansas Bar Association would want him. Or maybe I'll keep him."
By law, the governor appoints judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals, subject to a majority confirmation by the Kansas Senate. The governor has 60 days from the date the position becomes vacant to make the appointment, although the appointment process can begin immediately.
Once the appointment is made, the incumbent must stand for a retention vote in the first general election after serving one year in office. Once retained, the judge serves a four-year term.
A Court of Appeals judge must be at least 30 years old and have been a Kansas lawyer, judge, or full-time teacher at an accredited law school for at least 10 years.
To be considered for this vacancy, contact:
Governor’s Appointments Office