MANSFIELD — How do you know when it’s time to step away from something you’ve dedicated a good chunk of your life to? Mansfield’s now retired magisterial district judge says you just do.
“They say you know when it’s time … I just felt that after 20 years of service, it’s just time. I have to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it, but I think I made the right decision,” Judge James Carlson said.
Carlson was the magisterial district judge and presided over District Court 04-3-03 for 20 years, serving the boroughs of Blossburg, Mansfield and Roseville, as well as the townships of Bloss, Covington, Hamilton, Putnam, Richmond, Rutland, Sullivan, Union and Ward.
“It has been both an honor and privilege to have served,” Carlson said.
He became an attorney in 1977 after graduating from Ohio Northern University’s Claude W. Pettit College of Law and he opened a private practice in Wellsboro. In 1980, he was elected district attorney and served three terms, until 1992. He then returned to his private practice.
Carlson was nominated for magisterial district judge by former Gov. Tom Ridge after Judge Daniel Signor died. His nomination was confirmed by the state Senate in March 2000. Since then, he’s been reelected for three, six-year terms.
He noted there will be a bit of an adjustment, as the job kept him very busy. So how will he spend his time?
“I have applied and was approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to serve as a senior judge,” Carlson said. A senior judge fills in at court where a judge is needed on a temporary basis, he explained. He will also be working part time at his private practice.
Public service is in Carlson’s blood. His maternal grandfather was a deputy sheriff in the county and his father was the county treasurer for several years and went on to be a state representative.
“I guess public service is kind of instilled in me,” Carlson said. “I’ve enjoyed serving. I really absolutely enjoyed this position; it’s been great.
“I’m proud of my public service. I’ve tried to be fair in all parties that appeared in the court, treat them with respect and make decisions that are fundamentally sound with the law but also applying good common sense.”
Carlson said the district courts are the courts most people will deal with.
“We’re the first line and it’s important that people feel that they’ve been treated fairly and with respect. I think that’s what I strived to do. I’m proud of my service and I think I’ve succeeded in doing that,” Carlson said.
There have been several significant changes during his time as magisterial district judge, Carlson said. When he first entered office, the office was located more downtown and the facility wasn’t conducive for the court’s business, Carlson said. In 2010, the county relocated the office to its current location, 267 South Main Street.
Then, in 2013, there was a realignment of the districts due to the number of cases that were coming out of the Mansfield court.
“The district that I served was realigned and we lost Tioga Township and Tioga borough to the north and then Liberty Township and Liberty borough to the south, which made the district smaller to make it more fair to the two other courts, to spread the caseload around,” Carlson said.
A big change in the legal landscape that Carlson observed was the uptick in issues with drugs.
“That’s more prevalent today and it’s a bigger problem than it’s ever been. We’re seeing a lot of those cases, plus cases that are related to it because of the drug problem, such as thefts and burglaries and shoplifting,” Carlson said. “Those kinds of cases have drastically increased.”
His big takeaways from this job are to keep an open mind and stay grounded.
“Most people are good people. A lot of them that appear before the court, they’re in the situation not always of their own choosing, but because of their circumstances in life. You have to take all of that into consideration,” Carlson said. “It’s not always black and white, there are a lot of shades of grey that you have to be aware of.”