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After 27 years on the bench, Harford Circuit Judge Waldron to retire in mid-July

Judge Stephen Waldron, of the Third Circuit Court for Harford County, discusses his retirement. (Erika Butler/Aegis video)

THE AEGIS — Harford County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Waldron was sworn in on one son's birthday, and he'll retire this summer on his other son's birthday.

"I had the luxury to do that," Waldron, who's been on the bench for 27 years, said Monday from his chambers in the Harford County Courthouse. (He also said he'll retire from "active retirement" on his daughter's birthday, to cover all his children.)

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The second-most senior Harford judge behind Judge William O. Carr, Waldron was sworn in March 4, 1988. He will retire July 17, "though I expect July 18 to be much the same as the 17th," he said.

Waldron, 63, who was on vacation in Savannah, Ga., last week and will be out for a month recovering from surgery, won't step down from the bench until his replacement is named, a process that can take time.

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Ultimately, the appointment of his successor will fall to Gov. Larry Hogan; however, candidates will be screened through a nomination process involving both the local bar association and a county judicial nominating commission that Hogan is expected to appoint in the near future.

"You all could be stuck with me another year," Waldron said. "Life won't change much in calendar year 2015."

The end of Waldron's 15-year term expires right around his 70th birthday, the mandatory retirement age for circuit court judges, so he still has seven years left on his term.

The topic of retirement first came up about two years ago when his wife, Donna, retired, but it wasn't until six months ago or so he began pondering it more seriously.

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"I took time over Christmas, made a list of pros and cons," he said. "My list of pros went onto a second page. My cons were three lines."

Still, it wasn't until the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday that Waldron, as he said, pulled the trigger.

"It's a river you can't uncross," he said. "My only hesitation, I still love my job. I sit there in the courtroom and say to myself how lucky I am. How many people get to live the job they wanted."

No one thing made him decide this is the right time, though he admits spending time with his six grandchildren is a big factor. They range in age from 13 months to a junior in high school.

"Not to get morbid," he said, but he's seen other people his age or younger die in the past year.

"If God is talking, you might want to listen," he said, adding he's had a few physical ailments, though nothing major, that are all part of the aging process. "It reminded me of my own mortality. Do I want to be one of those people who works and works and works full-time and retires and dies? The answer to that is no."

After his replacement is named, Waldron said he will still work when he's needed, as has been the case with the majority of retired Harford judges. Typically, he said, it works out to about two days a week. He'll do whatever he's needed for, but ideally will still be presiding over trials.

"I love doing trials, I adore doing trials, I hope that doesn't change," he said.

He signed up to be a trial judge, not a plea and postponement judge, he joked.

"You're right in the middle of all the action [as a trial judge]. You are knee deep in it, it's coming at you 100 miles an hour almost every second of the day," Waldron said. "And I'm a people watcher and there's no better place to watch. You can't write reality TV better than that."

To that end, Waldron said he tries to laugh every day.

"Humor is very, very important. I've had a lot of attorneys tell me that I can give a guy 40 years and still have him chuckle on the way out of the courtroom," he said.

The down side to the job is that judges are exposed to "an awful lot of human failure on a daily basis, whether it's criminal or divorce, frankly, that weighs on you, and 27 years, that kind of piles up on you. You can't help but carry certain scars. There's a lot of human pain out there and you can't help but feel it."

The job is tiring, too, he said. Every weekend he takes home a divorce file to review. He's always "on the job," he says, and when he doesn't work on a weekend, at least for a little bit, he feels guilty.

But it all comes back to wanting to enjoy life.

"A large part is, I guess, a cycle of life type thing. People I know are no longer here. And I have people in my life I want to enjoy," he said.

He also has a shelf full of books he wants to read, including a stack by Jeff Shaara, who writes historical novels. Waldron loves history, particularly the Civil War, where he's met Shaara a couple times.

He and his wife have day trips they'd like to take, too.

But for a while, Waldron, who lives in Bel Air, said he just wants to relax.

"My wife is like the Energizer Bunny, she hasn't stopped since she retired. My retirement won't be like hers," he said. "I told her no honey-do list for six months. I've earned it. I'm a strong believer in putzing."

Waldron never set out to be a judge.

"Oh no. I never had a dream in the world to be a judge, my ego wasn't that big," he said.

But when the late Judge Brodnax Cameron retired, a few lawyers in Bel Air suggested he apply, so he did. And he's stayed for those 27 years.

"What I've enjoyed is being entrusted with a very, very special trust, which is the way I described it the day I was sworn in and I still feel that way today," he said. "It is a very special trust. And I feel honored to this minute being entrusted with that and being able to serve the people. It's been a great satisfaction to know that I play a very important role in a very important job and, hopefully, making a difference."

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