Walker not ready to leave the bench yet

November 04, 2005|By DON AINES


Judge John R. Walker's morning began Wednesday with the sentencing of a man on a simple assault charge and a discussion over whether there should be a deadly weapon enhancement because the defendant pelted the victim with a rock.

"It couldn't have been much of a rock if it just caused a bump," Franklin County Public Defender Michael Toms said.

"A rock was a deadly weapon when David and Goliath met," Walker said. "Sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."


"I would point out this stone broke no bones," Toms replied.

A brief discussion of the Bible and the physics of stone-throwing followed before Walker handed down a sentence longer than the 69 days the man already has served, but less than the six months he could have received.

"I try to give them enough time to get their attention" when it comes to sending someone to jail, Walker said later in his chambers. "Too little time and you don't get their attention. Too much and they come out bitter."

The 62-year-old president judge of the 39th District of the Court of Common pleas, which encompasses Franklin and Fulton counties, has been on the bench for 20 years, but he is not ready to hang up his robe just yet. That decision, however, will be left to the voters of the two counties in Tuesday's general election when his name appears on the ballot for retention.

Walker, who was Franklin County's district attorney for 14 years before being elected to the bench, does not face an opponent. Voters will simply vote on whether he gets to spend another eight years on the job. According to the administrative office of Pennsylvania courts, the job pays $149,782 a year, based on the judicial pay raise passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in July.

A judge's term is 10 years, but Walker must, by state law, retire at the end of the calendar year in which he turns 70. That will be 2013.

"I have one of the greatest jobs in the world ... I especially enjoy it when I get to sentence the bad boys," said Walker, who does not mince words with the men and women who come before him. A few months ago, a great-grandmother convicted of stealing holiday gifts was recommended for probation, but Walker disagreed.

"The Grinch that stole Christmas goes to jail," he told her.

"When I sentence someone, I talk to them the same way I talk to my kid ... I don't pull punches," Walker said. To get his points across, he often throws in lyrics from a country song or an advertising jingle

Wednesday morning, when sentences are handed down, was going quickly, largely because several of the dozen or so defendants were granted continuances. One man came in with a note from his doctor explaining that he was still recovering from back surgery.

"A neurological surgeon and I can't read his writing and question his command of English," Walker said, struggling to read the note. He rescheduled the case for a month and then reconsidered, extending it six weeks.

"By golly, in four weeks I'll be hunting the first week of buck season," said Walker, whose chamber walls are adorned with trophies of previous hunts.

Attorney Clinton Barkdoll told Walker his client's girlfriend had called to tell him the man was in a hospital emergency room. Walker granted a one-week delay but warned the man better have proof to back up his excuse.

"God have mercy on his soul if he wasn't in the emergency room," Walker said.

In Walker's onw words

The following are quotes by Judge John R. Walker during court proceedings, reported by Herald-Mail reporters over the last several years:

"If you wanted to go 110 to 120 miles an hour, you should have booked a plane ticket. You are not allowed to fly on (Interstate) 81."

"I'm moving my chair back ... I don't want lightning bouncing off you and hitting me. You've got to be honest with yourself."

"I could write a country and western song about this," Walker said of the charges facing one defendant. He suggested the song be about "all the stupid things I've done in my life. That would be a Billboard hit."

"I just want you to know (that) the ... family, unless you're drawn and quartered on the square, will not be satisfied."

"It's not like you got a scholarship to Penn State. This is the state pen."

"When people go into a place with a firearm, threaten people, steal their money and duct tape them ... we're not going to tolerate that."

- Compiled by Bill Kohler

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