AUDUBON - James M. Richardson, Judge in the 4th Judicial District of Iowa, is retiring after 43 years in the field of law, having served for longer than any other district judge in the Fourth Judicial District.
Richardson was born on a patriotic day - July 4, 1950 - in Jefferson, and maybe that played a part in his later career.
Richardson attended the University of Northern Iowa for his B.A. degree in 1972, and got his J.D. degree at the College of Law in 1975.
He married Gail P. Wegner, of Manning, and after working through college, they moved to Audubon in 1975, where they started and raised their family, and have lived there in the same home for 45 years.
While working on his law degree, Richardson interned at the Carroll County Attorney’s office, where he met Matt Barron, whose business partner, Ernie Hanson, was becoming a District Court Judge. Richardson ended up taking Hanson’s place at the law office and was a partner with Barron & Richardson from 1975 until he, himself was appointed to the bench in 1986.
At the time, Richardson said, attorneys and judges were trained and skilled to be problem solvers, and their clientele was conservative, and wanted conservative representation, so attorneys tried to work out solutions, or at least boil a case down to only a few points before it went to court.
When Hansen passed away in the early part of February of 1986, Richardson said, “We all lost a good friend and mentor. And when the question came up of who would replace him as judge, Richardson went on to say, “I had a very good practice, and decided to maybe go from being a batter to an umpire,” following then in Ernie’s footsteps, again.
Ironically, following Hanson in the law practice, and then as judge, were not the only connections for Richardson and Hanson.
“Having just moved to Audubon,” Richardson said, his wife was walking in town, and found a house that looked just like one she had admired in Vinton where she had taught school. It turns out it was Ernie Hanson’s house, and Hanson was in the process of selling it, and building a new one. “So not only did I take his place in a two-man practice, I purchased his home, then succeeded him in his judgeship.”
Looking back, Richardson said the men who preceded him on the bench, and others he worked with in his earlier days in law were problem solivers, “they tried to solve problems in an amicable way, and we spent the taxpayers money like it was our own. I think that’s a lesson that is lacking in today’s day and age.”
When Governor Terry Branstad appointed Richardson as a District Court judge, he was 35 at the time - the youngest individual to be appointed in southwest Iowa as a District Court judge. When Richardson retires on July 6, it will be after serving as District Court judge longer than any other judge in the Fourth Judicial District.
In a letter to Chief Justice Mark S. Cady, announcing his retirement, Richardson said, “I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have served the citizens of this state.”