By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- More than two decades after taking the bench, Judge Michael Roseberry says some things have changed in the court system and some haven't.
"I still get excited every day walking out and taking the bench," Roseberry said. "I still enjoy it, but after 22 years, it's somebody else's turn."
Roseberry retires, effective midnight Sunday, as the resident circuit judge for Pike County.
He'll keep his hand in the law -- serving as the county's code hearing officer handling cases outside the traditional court setting and doing civil and custody/divorce mediation -- but he also plans to find plenty of time for woodworking and construction work.
Being in the courtroom, but not necessarily being a judge, always was Roseberry's goal.
"I wanted to be an attorney since watching Perry Mason when I was in third grade. I just was mesmerized by the practice of law. Mostly that was courtroom law, and I enjoyed being in the courtroom," he said. "Being a judge was kind of a good fit."
Roseberry served as Pike County state's attorney from 1980-84, then was in private practice until he took the bench in 1990.
"Cecil Burrows was retiring. He had talked to me about the fact it might be something I could be interested in," Roseberry said. "Based on what I'd done practicing law before him, he said I might make for a reasonable judge. I decided to run for it."
As a resident judge, Roseberry generally handled cases in Pike County but could hear cases anywhere in the circuit covering Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Cass, Mason, Menard, Pike and Schuyler counties.
Sometimes, Roseberry admits, it's hard to keep a straight face.
One defendant ordered to look for employment provided a list of 20 people or businesses he'd contacted, but Roseberry knew at least one business on the list had closed three years ago. After further questioning, "he fessed up," Roseberry said. "Sometimes you've got to try to stay at least one step behind them. You very rarely get ahead of them."
The bench also provides a unique perspective on people.
"That's what keeps the job interesting," Roseberry said. "Even some of the very best people, when they get in the criminal justice environment or the civil case environment, can do not so good things."
The case load grew over the years.
"Probably the biggest change was when the orders of protection were initiated. Those take quite a bit of time. We're doing at least 100 per year," Roseberry said. "When I took the bench, there were no mandatory fines for somebody if they were convicted of a certain type of offense. Now there's close to 100 mandatory assessments as the legislators try to get defendants to pay for running the criminal justice system."
Another change has been the influx of methamphetamine cases, beginning in 2000.
"They're actually maybe starting to slow down," he said. "I would have said that comfortably two years ago, but now we're picking up a few more. It seems my Tuesdays, when we do criminal cases, are always full."
Whatever the case, Roseberry retains his faith in the judicial system.
"I've seen trials, particularly jury trials, where I felt the defendants might have committed the offense and the jury found the innocent, but I‘ve never seen a case where I felt the defendant was not guilty and the jury found them guilty. In those cases, I can override the system," he said.
"It's sometimes a slow process, but it's a fair process, a fair system," he said. "We've got a good group of attorneys that practice in this county. I feel proud to be part of that."