Judge Ira Kaufman is trading his black robe for some cruise wear as he steps down from 19 years on the bench.
His last official day was Dec. 31 and 10 days later, he took some time to discuss his career in Plumas County before heading off to New Zealand for a little break.
Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Kaufman to the bench on Dec. 29, 1998. At that time he had been serving as a public defender in the county for 10 years.
When asked what surprised him the most about becoming a judge, he answered quickly — the administrative side. He had witnessed judges in action from the bench, but he didn’t know about the hours spent dealing with paperwork. It was a task made exponentially worse because the courts had transferred from the county’s jurisdiction to the state. “It was new to me, new to the county,” he said.
At the time, Kaufman was selected from among four other attorneys: Mike Jamison, Bob Zernich, David Adrian and Craig Settlemire.
There are reportedly four local attorney seeking to succeed Kaufman. It’s expected that Gov. Jerry Brown will appoint one of them sometime this spring.
Kaufman said he will be available to mentor his successor if he or she wants the guidance, just as Judges Spike Young and Alan Thieler mentored him.
As for specific advice, Kaufman said he would encourage his successor to become involved in statewide politics as he has. Kaufman served on the state’s Judicial Council for many years and was president of the California Judges Association in 2007.
District Attorney David Hollister lauded those efforts, “In addition to his work on the bench, Judge Kaufman was a tireless advocate for the judicial system outside of the courtroom. While his advocacy often necessitated hard conversations with state and local officials, he never backed down or took the easy way out of an issue and, instead, pushed for the betterment of Plumas County and the citizens he served.”
Until a new judge is named, Judge Janet Hilde is handling the criminal and civil caseload with the assistance of visiting judges.
Kaufman oversaw some high profile cases — most recently the Steward murder trial, which resulted in a first-degree conviction, and the arson confession in the Minerva Fire. One murder trial landed the judge and Plumas County on the NBC television show, Dateline.
But those aren’t the cases that made the biggest impression on Kaufman.
“What gave me the most satisfaction were those cases where I could change lives,” he said. “Those were often the Social Services cases.”
Kaufman recalled a case where a young girl in a wheelchair was taken from her mother who had drug problems. “But the mother cleaned up her act, and she got the child back,” Kaufman said. “The day we dismissed the case, the girl walked in on canes.”
Kaufman carried out his duties in the historic third-story courtroom of the Plumas County Courthouse, which was big on style, but not so great for acoustics.
“It was state of the art for 1921,” he said. Though some basic upgrades were made, Kaufman said the acoustics remained less than desirable and there weren’t enough plugs to support today’s electronics.
He’s seen other changes over the years. When he began as a public defender, issues centered around alcohol, and then meth, opioids and most recently heroin. Kaufman commends the advances that Plumas County has made fighting the opioid epidemic that is having an impact nationally. “Dr. Mark Satterfield (the county’s health officer) has done a great job,” he said.
He also praised his working relationship with Sheriff Greg Hagwood and District Attorney David Hollister. “I was very lucky with Hagwood and Hollister,” he said. “To have those two guys to work with, we got to the right place together.”
He also acknowledged the working relationship he had with Judges Garret Olney and Janet Hilde, and the court administration staff.
While he is looking forward to his retirement, he does miss the daily interaction with his judicial colleagues in Plumas and throughout the state.
Kaufman and his wife, Maddie, plan to divide their time between Quincy and their home in Arizona. “We bought a house in Tucson for winters,” Kaufman said, adding that he is no longer a fan of the snow and cold.
But first it’s off to New Zealand and Australia. In Australia, they will spend time with the foreign exchange student that they hosted 25 years ago.
When asked if his wife is excited about this retirement, Kaufman quipped that she said when you get married it’s “for better or worse; didn’t say for lunch.”
But it’s clear that the pair have been enjoying their time together and the time to travel.
Though he has retired from his position of Plumas County Superior Court Judge, he is not stepping away from the bench entirely. Kaufman will work as a visiting judge for jurisdictions that need assistance.
Sheriff Greg Hagwood worked with Kaufman from the time he was a defense attorney through his tenure on the bench.
“It’s been a pleasure and honor to work with him for the entire time that he has been part of the criminal justice system,” Hagwood said. “He served the people of Plumas County as well as those across the state in an exemplary fashion. He will be sorely missed.”
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Judge Kaufman and for his work during his tenure as a Superior Court Judge in Plumas County,” said District Attorney David Hollister. “I had the pleasure of appearing before him in cases ranging from a long, difficult and highly publicized murder case (People v. Wallin-Reed, NBC Dateline) to a seemingly inconsequential misdemeanor arraignment and can attest Judge Kaufman not only presided with the respect inherent in his position, but with a respect he had earned.” He added, “Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay Judge Kaufman, or any judge for that matter, was that every person appearing before him, whether a defendant, victim or attorney, would receive a fair shake and could rightfully expect justice to be served.”
His fellow judge Janet Hilde said, “I’ve known and worked with Judge Kaufman for over 30 years, as a friend, lawyer and judge. Not only was Judge Kaufman a wonderful mentor to me, he made enormous contributions to our court.”
She also acknowledged his work across the state and said, “Small courts, like Plumas, are often overlooked by the larger courts and governing bodies of the state. Yet, through his leadership, he was a powerful voice, advocating for Plumas and other small courts.”