Living an honorable life in Alpine

Superior Court Judge Rick Meyer in the mountains of Markleeville.

Superior Court Judge Rick Meyer in the mountains of Markleeville.
Lisa Gavon

Clouds were gathering overhead, but in his peripheral vision, he noticed an unusual little trail, filled with light, veering off from the main well-traveled road. Without hesitation, he took it. It was full of brambles, and not clearly marked, but Rick Meyer, following his instincts, made his own unique way. He has traversed meadows and fields, peaks and valleys, but no one had gone in this direction before him.

He has faced hard challenges and intense joys equally on his life journey, but he had to carve out his own passage.

“This is where I belong,” says presiding Superior Court Judge Rick Meyer, referring to the long and demanding process of change and development that led him to settle in the small town of Markleeville. He finished in the top percentage of his class from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, but found that the pomp and circumstance of a “typical” lawyer’s life was quite simply against his nature.

He had a good experience at McGeorge, stating that, “It reaffirmed the importance of hard work.” As a sophomore, he started clerking at a firm in Sacramento. “The usual route from there would be long days and long hours until you were eventually hired, and then as you proved yourself over the years, you would become a partner,” said Meyer, who was interested in far more than “billable hours.”

There were many compelling issues to consider, but he happened upon an ad for a position in Placerville. He already knew his goals.

“I wanted to meet people, help people, and do things to make a difference,” said Meyer. Moving to a smaller town was fabulous for him. As a partner in a new endeavor, he got to know everyone and he did everything: real estate, divorces, and criminal cases.

He met and married his wife there, and in an affirmation that he was indeed in the right place at the right time, after five years, he was offered the public defender position in Lake Tahoe. They moved, raising their son Ben and daughter Kelly at the Lake, and loving every minute of it.

Meyer was born in Altadena, the youngest of five children, but grew up in Sacramento. His father and mother, each in their own way, set an example of manifesting their moral responsibilities through their behavior. He attended a Jesuit High School that did not teach just dogma but had an expanded conception of Christianity. “There are many paths to spiritual reality,” said Meyer. The structure and discipline served him well.

He ended up graduating in Arcadia at a public high school, and he still has six close friends that he sees often from those years. He made the transition to college at UC Berkeley.

“It was life-changing,” he says, “At an institution that was a bastion of free speech, I was confronted by the dichotomy of individuals who were either sincere or insincere in their thoughts and conduct.”

Meyer became fascinated with political science, economics, history, and particularly the formation of the constitution. This is what led him toward the study of law.

When he became chief public defender in El Dorado County, he ran his office out of South Lake. Straightforward and honest, he oversaw a very efficient operation, with an excellent staff, for 28 years. Around 2005, Meyer decided he would like to teach political science when he eventually retired so he went back to UNR to get his master’s degree. He had previously instructed American history and paralegal courses as an adjunct professor at Tahoe Community College in the ’80s, and found it important and fulfilling.

Since Meyer had already been working in Alpine County through the public defender’s office, someone called him and suggested that he run for judge there. Taking the bench in 2015, he said “The most important quality for a judge is to have a burning desire for justice.” It is a significant responsibility, and Meyer is thankful for the opportunity and ability to be of service.

“In criminal cases we have a duty to protect the public,” he said. “Sometimes that requires the imposition of a harsh sentence. Other times, the circumstances allow for a more rehabilitative approach. Each case, each defendant, is different and is entitled to be judged on their own merits,” said Meyer. Empathetic by nature, he tries to maintain a welcoming, friendly courtroom environment to ease people’s anxiety.

From his home base in Alpine, Meyer sits as a visiting judge in other California counties like El Dorado, Calaveras, Inyo, Amador, and Sacramento. This is usually accomplished online now but can involve some travel. He finds great satisfaction in being able to “effect the culture,” creating a positive atmosphere in and around the courtroom.

“It is important to be reasonable, truly care, be even-handed, compassionate, and do the absolute best you can,” he said.

He wants to create the best environment for people to be all they can. This is evident in both his professional and family life.

“It is such a blessing to have my children and three grandchildren,” he says. He is firmly and devotedly family oriented.

It wasn’t until he was in his 50s that he started playing with his brother in their band “Double Cross.” He enjoyed singing when he was young, but he started taking the lead in their group, along with playing the guitar. Choosing selections from musicians such as Van Morrison and Eric Clapton, they play venues like weddings at Valhalla or Fallen Leaf Lake.

“When I look out and see everyone’s heads are bobbin’, it makes the late nights worth it. I would sing in front of 10,000 people, but I would not dance in front of six,” Meyer said. “It would cost me votes.”

It is not only his thirst for justice that keeps him motivated, but the intrinsic joy and gratefulness he feels in his life. Even when facing difficult trials or decisions along his path, he can still find a reason to whistle along the way. His musician’s soul has deep appreciation for the considerable treasures he has been given, and that he desires to share with others.


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