For approximately three decades, Judge Paul Miller has presided over countless cases while on the bench at the Riley County Courthouse. But this week marks his last as chief judge of the 21st Judicial District.
Miller, who has served as chief judge for 15 years, began his career as a Riley County District judge in November 1982.
He started his law practice in 1972 after graduating from the University of Kansas School of Law . That 40-year judicial career officially concludes Tuesday.
“I hope that I’ve served the public well,” Miller said. “(Though), one of the things about being a judge is that when the case is over, half the people are mad at you.”
Still, Miller said, “I’ve always tried to do what I thought was right, what I thought was the law and what I thought was good common sense.”
He hopes his replacement — a person who has not yet been chosen — will be fair, a student of the law, expressive, rational and patient.
Miller’s own patience was tested almost daily, but, “people want their day in court and just because I’ve heard it before, doesn’t meant they’ve said it before,” he said.
Over the years, Miller has observed the changes in caseloads, including a general increase in crime, an increase in pro se litigants, or people who represent themselves, and an increase in the sheer number of lawyers in the area.
He said that when he started his practice, he was the 15th lawyer in the area. Now there are more than 100. “It’s a statement of the litigious society we belong to now,” he said.
And it’s no surprise that Miller’s career has had its rewards and frustrations. The former include the belief that he helped people understand and do the right thing. The latter included witnessing the same mistakes repeated time and time again and seeing young people make foolish mistakes.
A friend once told Miller that there’s always one case each year where a judge earns their salary for that entire year.
One of those cases for Miller was an adoption battle fought between a child’s biological father and a couple who had had the child in their care for 4 months. Miller ruled that the biological father was entitled to custody of the child, but he said the decision was one of the hardest he’s made.
Miller said another difficult case involved a man who had beaten his girlfriend’s three-year-old to death. At the time, Miller said his daughter was three as well. While listening to testimony, he said he had to excuse himself from the bench to regain his composure.
The man tried to appeal Miller’s sentencing on the basis that Miller had been biased during the case, but his appeal was not upheld, Miller said.
Recent, notable cases that Miller has ruled over include Ben Hinchsliff, a man who was convicted in 2009 of 77 counts of rape and criminal sodomy against a girl who was between the ages of 10 and 15 during the crimes, Diane Washam, a mentally disabled woman convicted in 2011 of the second degree murder of her 88-year-old mother, and Justin Taylor, a former K-State student convicted of the 2010 rape of a Manhattan woman and the voluntary manslaughter of Kevin Cockrum in 2011.
Though Miller plans to attend his daughter’s wedding in San Francisco and is thinking of a move to Overland Park where his wife lives, he said that initially he doesn’t plan to do much of anything, except play more golf.
But he said he’ll still maintain a presence in Manhattan. “It’s been my home for over 45 years, so I’m not going to turn my back on it.”
He said he is going to take time off to decompress and will finally have a chance to relax and do some reading. He has a long list of classics that he’ll finally have time to get around to. Miller said he’ll most likely miss aspects of his job, but that he wouldn’t be retiring if he wasn’t ready.
“Whatever your career, you just know when it’s your time to hang it up,” he said. “Now is my time.”