Judge Richard Walker, 62, of Newton, is up for retention on the general election ballot on Tuesday.
Walker has been on the bench in Harvey County since 1985.
After 25 years on the bench, Judge Richard Walker says he still tries to walk into a courtroom like it is the first time.
“I have dealt with the same people and the same issues over and over again. It is tough to walk into the courtroom as if it were the first time I have ever seen them,” said Walker, a criminal trial judge in the 9th Judicial District, which includes Harvey County. “I want to be persuaded by what happens before me and always be open minded. It is tougher to do that the longer you have been on the bench.”
Walker, 62, of Newton, is up for retention on the general election ballot on Tuesday.
Walker has been on the bench in Harvey County since 1985. He began his law career in 1973 after graduating from Bethel College and The University of Kansas Law School. He is the chief judge of the 9th Judicial District and takes care of all the administrative responsibilities of the court.
Walker is a member of the American, Kansas and Harvey County Bar Associations and the Wesley E. Brown Inn of the Court.
He is a board member of the Kansas State Historical Society and an adviser to the American Law Institute Model Penal Code Revision Project.
The project, which brings together judges and law professors from across the nation, is working on a uniform criminal code and sentencing guidelines that eventually will be proposed to all 50 states.
The goal of the group is to develop guidelines that offer adequate punishment but do not overcrowd the country’s prison systems, Walker said.
The group is trying to put in place rational policies, he said.
“We are not driven by the headlines of the moment,” he said. “Headlines make good reading but not the best law.”
He also is a frequent speaker and adviser to the Vera Institute of Justice, received the outstanding service award from the Kansas Bar Association in 2002 and is a member of the Newton Rotary Club.
Walker said he tries to make his courtroom as user-friendly as possible. He especially has focused on making jury service easier, improving customer service and offering alternate forms of conflict resolution.
The court has tried to ensure people only are called to jury duty once in their jury term and can call in to find out if they are definitely needed for a court appearance.
Staff in the 9th Judicial District have been trained to deal with people who are in stressful situations.
“I want the public to be informed, and I want to be open with them. Under the circumstances, I want them to have the best experience it can be,” Walker said. ... “They may not win their case. They may not like the outcome, but I hope they can say they got a fair hearing.”
Walker has implemented the use of settlement conferences in criminal cases in the judicial district. Settlement conferences have been used for years to resolve civil actions but are a relatively new addition to the local criminal system.
During a settlement conference the prosecution and usually the victim are put in one room, and the defense attorney and defendant are put in a separate room. Both sides separately present their cases to a judge who has not previously heard the case before. Each side then offers what outcome they would like to see, and the judge attempts to mediate a resolution.
Six cases involving sex crimes have been taken to settlement conference in the judicial district. Five of them were successfully settled. Walker said using the conferences takes the uncertainty out of taking a case to jury trial. A settlement conference may mean a prosecutor can be guaranteed a conviction and the defense can argue for a more lenient punishment.
“Nobody is forced to do anything in a settlement conference. All cases that go to a jury trial involve uncertainty. In my 25 years as a judge, I have tried 400 to 500 cases,” Walker said. “I have seen juries acquit people I would have convicted and convict people I was unsure of. When you sit 12 people down and ask them to make a decision beyond a reasonable doubt, no one knows for sure what is going to happen.”
Walker noted neither side is obligated to make any deals when a case is sent to settlement conference, and the case can still proceed to trial.
He also said the settlement conference often negates the need for victims to testify in open court. In the case of sexual abuse cases, witnesses may include small children.
The Commission on Judicial Performance recommended Walker be retained in the general election. The commission has a complex system of rating judges in which questionnaires are sent to attorneys, appeal court judges and non-attorneys who have appeared in the judge’s court.
Walker received an overall score of 3.53 on a 4.0 scaling, scoring above the 3.41 state average for criminal court judges.
When asked if Walker should be retained, 97 percent of attorneys surveyed said he should be retained and 88 percent of non-attorneys recommended his retention.
“I am only as good as my body of work,” Walker said. “I have to look at each case individually. It looks like I am moving in the right direction.”
The only area in which Walker scored substantially lower than his peers was in speed of rulings. He said this as an ongoing challenge but said he prefers to put extra time and effort into his decisions rather than rushing to judgment.
Walker said he was not too concerned about the numbers; he is more concerned about the people who are affected by his decisions.
“This is not a game to me. I am dealing with people’s lives,” he said. “When I do a sentencing, it is not an academic outline I’m writing. When I sign a mortgage foreclosure, that is a person losing their home.”