Judge reflects on 25 years in ‘a glorious job’
District Judge Dave Gamble says it was nothing short of a miracle that he was elected to the bench in 1986.
“I had the least name recognition. Even when I was in law school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said in an interview Wednesday following the announcement of his retirement after 25 years on the Douglas County bench, effective Jan. 6, 2013.
“Seeing it from this end, I cannot imagine having done anything else as a career. Me getting elected to this job was miraculous in the first place. I am confident I was miraculously placed in this job. It was exactly what I was supposed to do. It’s been a glorious job. I feel so blessed to have had a career I enjoyed.”
Gamble, 61, said he was motivated to retire two years before his term expires to spend more time with his family, and so the county wouldn’t be faced with two new district court judges in 2014 if Judge Michael Gibbons decides not to seek re-election.
“It feels like a propitious time,” he said. “I had a slight concern the county would be faced with two new district judges at the same time.”
His successor will be appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval from a list of applicants screened by a judicial selection committee.
As the longest-sitting Nevada district court judge, Gamble said one of the greatest satisfactions he has is seeing the positive impact the court has had on people’s lives.
“One of the best parts is what I can bring to families, especially where I see children with so much disharmony in their lives in divorce and child custody cases,” Gamble said.
“I love having juveniles come back as adults and tell me how their lives are better because of something that happened in court,” he said.
That includes the juvenile whom Gamble ordered spanked in court by his mother for his incorrigible behavior. The incident earned Gamble national attention as “the spanking judge.”
“He came to see me not long ago in his dress uniform as a platoon leader,” Gamble said.
When considering the more sobering aspects of the job, Gamble said he recalls the children whose murders or abuse has brought their perpetrators before him.
“I still see the face of Krystal Steadman from her picture that was part of the evidence in her murder trial,” he said.
The 9-year-old’s body was found dumped off the side of Highway 50 on March 19, 2000, following her brutal rape and murder.
Gamble presided over the trial of Thomas Robert Soria Sr., and his son Thomas Robert Soria Jr., who were charged in the crime. Soria Jr., 21, pleaded guilty and received a life sentence. Soria Sr., 40, who claimed he was innocent, committed suicide one day into his death-penalty trial.
In his letters Wednesday to Sandoval and the Nevada Supreme Court justices, Gamble said his decision to retire was bittersweet.
“It is a bittersweet feeling to leave the full-time district court bench. Over the last 25 years, I have come to love the work and the interaction with litigants, lawyers, jurors, the wonderful people I’ve worked with and, yes, even the Supreme Court,” Gamble said.
The judge said he plans to participate in the state’s senior judge program in which he would be assigned to cases in jurisdictions across Nevada.
“One of my strengths is settling cases without trial,” Gamble said. “As a senior judge, I would be assigned to go around the state and settle cases for judges. I may do some private mediation work as well.”
He also plans to devote more time to City of Refuge, a nonprofit program he and his wife Diane founded more than 20 years ago to provide pregnant girls and women with a place to live.
“There’s a lot of work to do out there,” he said. “We have good help but there is some deferred maintenance I would like to take care of. We’ve planted an orchard that needs attention, and a berry patch.”
In his letter to Sandoval, Gamble said, “With 25 years of interaction with parties, lawyers, jurors, and the wonderful people I have worked with, I believe I have a sufficient supply of tales to tell from my rocker.
“And there’s some steelhead trout in Oregon with my name on it,” the judge said Wednesday.
Gamble said he thinks he’ll be able to handle the transition from judge to private citizen.
“I do think about that a lot,” he said. “This has been such a big part of my life, I don’t know for sure what I’ll feel like. But the unique thing is that I can go on being a judge with the senior judge program. “
Over the years, Gamble said he’s changed his opinion on sending offenders to prison.
“I’m seeing it as a less effective way to change people,” he said. “I view it now as more of a means of protecting people.”
At the same time, Gamble said he was pleased to see the trend toward placing juveniles in regional facilities like China Spring or Aurora Pines in Douglas County rather than warehousing them in larger state facilities.
“That has been a bright spot,” he said. “It has the most benefit to Douglas County kids as they get to stay close to home, affording them the best chance to re-establish relationships with their parents and families.”
Gibbons said he was sorry to see his colleague retire.
“I have worked with Judge Gamble for 25 years, first as deputy district attorney, and then as a fellow district judge. He has done an outstanding job and demonstrated that he is one of the top trial judges in the State of Nevada.
“His characteristics of intelligence, toughness and compassion have resulted in the efficient and fair resolution of thousands of disputes.”
Gibbons cited Gamble’s leadership in juvenile justice with the with the creation of the Aurora Pines girls facility in Gardnerville.
“It’s a historic achievement as it’s the only girls’ facility in the state. He has served the citizens of Douglas County and all of Nevada with distinction and I’m really sorry to see him go,” Gibbons said.
As for his future on the bench, Gibbons said he was planning to run for re-election in 2014, and would make a formal announcement at the end of next summer.
As his mentors, Gamble named U.S. District Court Judge Howard D. McKibben who served as Douglas County district court judge and district attorney; Nye County Judge William Beko; Gamble’s uncle, Supreme Court Justice Cameron Batjer; and former Carson City district judges Michael Fondi and Michael Griffin.
He also mentioned former Douglas District Judge Norm Robison who was on the bench when Gamble was elected in 1986.
Gamble said he would advise his successor – if asked – to remember that district court is a place “where people’s lives are truly changed.”
“Take the work you do here seriously. It’s not a job, it’s a service. It’s not just another case. It’s probably the only time this person will have contact with the judicial system. Who the person sees and how they are treated will have an immense effect.
“One great thing about this court is there is time for a judge to give individual attention to people in these cases.”
Gamble said it can be difficult not to give the impression of imperiousness or superiority from the bench.
“I’ve never been overly impressed with myself,” he said. “It has in part to do with my faith and my humility from my faith. I never considered myself different at all from the people in front of me. We’re serving, not lording it over people.”
Gamble said he would miss his co-workers most of all.
“This is a magical place,” he said. “The people in this building are extraordinary. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without their support.”