A recently retired Family Court and District Court judge looks back on his career with a measure of disappointment because of his inability to help more people.
Walter F. Maguire, district judge in the 28th Judicial Circuit (Pulaski and Rockcastle counties) for more than 22 years and Family Court judge in Pulaski, Rockcastle and Lincoln counties for the past six and a half years admits to being tired at age 70 after many, many 12-hour days in the courtroom.
Maguire’s retirement was effective at the end of the day June 30. His successor has not been named but will be selected through a committee process and appointment by Gov. Steve Beshear.
As a Family Court judge who has presided over hundreds of family breakups, Maguire said drug addiction and over-dependence on government programs are, in his opinion, the cause of most family problems. He said too many families fail to nurture, support and prepare their children for life.
“I really wanted to help more people ... I tried,” said Maguire. “We have a cultural problem ... many people don’t have the highest expectations for themselves.”
Maguire said his caseload was burdensome. “I averaged about 2,700 cases a year.” He said sometimes it would take up to a year to settle a case. Family Court for the three counties in his circuit had the largest caseload of any Family Court in the state in fiscal years 2010, 2011 and 2012 and the next to highest caseload in fiscal years 2007, 2008 and 2009.
“I wrote the chief justice (of the Kentucky Supreme Court) and the governor trying to get another judge appointed ... but there was no money,” said Maguire.
Through all the long years, Maguire, despite disappointments, apparently got along well with his clientele.
“I was threatened a couple of times while I was district judge, but I don’t remember being threatened while serving as Family Court judge,” he laughed.
Maguire’s long career in the courtroom was a satisfying experience.
"I am blessed to have had the opportunity to serve as both a District and Family Court judge and I sincerely hope I have been able to help others in at least some small way through my many years of judicial service," Maguire said. "Serving as Family Court judge was one of the most demanding, rewarding and, at the same time, frustrating challenges and opportunities of my judicial career.”
Family Court is designed with the primary purpose of helping and protecting children and families — a daunting challenge in today's world of addiction, domestic violence and excessive government dependency, Maguire reiterated.
The retired judge emphasized he could not have been successful without his support staff of Dianna Swartz, Sherri Bennett, and Caron White.
“To the so very many people who have helped, supported and voted for me over the years, I can only say thank you from the very bottom of my heart. I especially want to thank the outstanding law enforcement officers and circuit court clerks with whom I have worked, and former longtime Pulaski County Attorney Fred Neikirk.”
Maguire was first elected to the bench in 1977 as one of the state's original 113 District Court judges after the 1975 enactment of the Judicial Article that created Kentucky's unified court system that exists today. He served as a district court judge for Pulaski and Rockcastle counties and was the last of the original District Court judges still serving as a district judge when he retired in 2004. He went on to be elected in 2006 as the Family Court judge for Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties.
“Judge Maguire's daily presence and influence will not only be missed by the bench and bar, but also by the countless families who respected his learned and wise counsel during crisis and complex proceedings,” said Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey T. Burdette, who also serves Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties and is chief regional circuit judge for the Cumberland Region. “We will honor him in retirement by looking to make sure those cases get timely attention during the transition. As a fellow judge, Judge Maguire is a friend and confidant who watched over me as a young attorney and I am grateful for his many years of dedicated leadership. His place in Kentucky's judicial history is significant.”
As a District Court judge, Maguire had exclusive jurisdiction over criminal misdemeanors and traffic cases. He also oversaw juvenile, probate and small claims cases, conducted felony arraignments and preliminary hearings and presided in emergency mental health and mental disability hearings and reviews, guardianship proceedings and domestic violence cases.
Maguire served as a member of the Kentucky Juvenile Code Review and Implementation Task Force and as District Court representative to the state Judicial Council, an advisory body for the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Kentucky. He was elected by his fellow judges to several terms as a member of the Executive Committee for the Kentucky District Judges Association.
Early in his judicial career, he was selected from a national competition among judges and those with related professions to be a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities and participated in an educational and leadership program at the College of Law of the University of Virginia. Maguire frequently attended American Academy of Judicial Education training seminars around the country, including judicial development programs at Harvard Law School. He has taught an intensive course in trial advocacy at the University of Kentucky College of Law and has been a member of the UK Dean of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board.
Maguire has also served as an attorney in private practice in Somerset, which included extensive work as a public defender representing Pulaski County residents who could not afford an attorney. He has frequently taught history and political science courses as an adjunct professor at Somerset Community College.
He was previously a special assistant in criminal justice for the Council of State Governments in Lexington, where he worked closely with state and regional legislative groups to develop proposed legislation and program alternatives in the areas of corrections and juvenile justice. He was also the secretary for the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the National Association of Juvenile Compact Administrators, the State Juvenile Delinquency Program Administrator's Association, the Parole and Probation Compact Administrators Association and the National Association of Attorneys General.
Maguire has also served as an assistant state attorney general, the associate director for administration of the UK Tobacco and Health Research Institute and as a member of the state Mental Health Task Force and the Lake Cumberland Sub-Area Health Council of the East Kentucky Health Systems Agency.
Maguire had an interest in government service and politics early on. While in college he was selected to be a congressional intern for U.S. Rep. Dr. Tim Lee Carter and later worked in the Washington office of U.S. Sen. John Sherman Cooper. After receiving his juris doctor from the UK College of Law, he served as an executive officer and staff attorney for what were at that time the state Department of Commerce and the Department of Personnel. He then returned to UK as assistant to the vice president for student affairs and later served as the associate dean of students. He was responsible for administering the student code of conduct and was the university's principal security and information liaison with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the U.S. military.
Maguire's commitment to service dates from his public school days, when he was student body president. He attended Wake Forest University and UK on track scholarships and held several track records at both schools. After receiving his bachelor's degree from UK, he helped pay his way through law school by working as UK's assistant track coach.
“One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was recently inducted Somerset High School Athletic Hall of Fame,” said Maguire. He played on the Briar Jumper football team when it won its first regional championship. He broke the state record in track, finished high in hurdles and was a member of the golf team.
Maguire was reared in Somerset and is the son of the late John D. Maguire and Ethelberta Flippin Maguire. He is a founding member of Pulaski Heritage, a local preservation organization.
Maguire will continue to reside in Somerset with Jane, his wife of 45 years. Their three children and six grandchildren also reside in Pulaski County.
Will he continue to practice law?
“Honestly, at this point, I don’t know,” said Maguire.