HOUTZDALE – Thirty years ago, Jim Hawkins was working for the Sky Haven Coal Company with no plans to do anything more. But a suggestion by his mother changed that fate.
Hawkins explained that someone asked his mother if his brother, Herb, would want to run for district judge. She suggested Jim instead and the rest is history.
Hawkins retired effective Dec. 31 after serving as a magistrate for 30 years.
To be qualified for the position, he had to take a special course that crammed “years worth of law in a three-week period.”
“It was the hardest thing I ever did to take that class and get certified,” Hawkins said.
He found a mentor in the late District Judge Wes Read of DuBois. Several other court personnel, including the late Judge John Reilly, current Judges Fredric Ammerman and Paul Cherry and current court administrator F. Cortez “Chip” Bell” were essential in helping him prepare for this position.
Over the years, he has seen all kinds of cases, some very tragic and others somewhat comical as with a state prison inmate who seemed crazy, but who as it turns out, was just having fun.
He winked at me at the end of the hearing, showing that he wasn’t quite as crazy as he appeared, he said.
The variety of crimes and criminals made for an interesting career and now he wishes he had kept notes or a diary. Regardless, memories of the more tragic stories are still strong.
“Domestic violence is terrible,” he said. “You can’t sugar coat it. There is no easy answer.”
He noted that statistics show that women go through the motions of pressing charges and getting protection from abuse orders seven times “before it sticks.”
Hawkins often spoke at the schools about the dangers of domestic violence as well as other topics, such as drinking and driving.
“I tried to stress to the males that a female is not your property,” he said about some of his talks. He also explained to the girls that if they are in an abusive situation, they need to get out.
During his time on the bench, he has seen three generations of families come before him.
“I hope I met the standards of fair/equal shots” and “made a difference in their lives, especially the young people,” Hawkins said.
This job was “a calling” to him and he said it was a pleasure to serve everyone.
Hawkins thinks his successor, James Glass, will do a good job and he added that Glass is making the transition easy.
If he could give Glass some advice it would be that he needs both “common sense and compassion.” He suggested Glass work to be a good problem solver and try to put everyone at ease by using a good sense of humor about the cases.
Among the things Hawkins is not going to miss is being on call for one week a month. He served his last on-call time right up until his term finished.
He will miss the people from his office and thanked both his current and previous staff for their service.
It seems they will miss him as well.
“I’ve worked for Jim since 1991 and he is so compassionate and understanding with the public. In my opinion, he has made a difference in some people’s lives. He always had funny stories to tell of arraignments that occurred throughout the years. It was a pleasure working with him, and I will miss him terribly,” said Renee Hudish.
“I have worked with Judge Hawkins for the last 11 years, and he has always made it enjoyable to come to work! I will miss working with him but wish him nothing but the best!” commented Judy Miles.
Hawkins also wanted to thank all his supporters and the media who he said “have been very professional” in dealing with difficult cases, as well as his wife and family.
“I’m not sure what they (his sons) went through because their dad was a judge,” he said. “I am sure they have stories.”
His wife, Lisa, said, “It has been an interesting career for Jim and our family, and myself and our three sons, Tim, Ryan and Paul are very proud of how Jim handled his daily duties with compassion, kindness and sternness when needed.”
Hawkins’ future plans include traveling to visit his sons and four grandchildren and attending to his greenhouse. He noted that his wife is still working and he doesn’t want to go home “and just sit in a recliner.”
He has been appointed as a senior judge, and he will even be back in court on a substitute basis.
While reflecting on his journey, Hawkins commented that if his mother hadn’t suggested he take on this job, he would “probably still be running the loader.”