Retired Bonneville County magistrate judge looks back on 38-year career
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IDAHO FALLS – After nearly four decades as a magistrate judge, L. Mark Riddoch is turning a page on his career.
The 38-year veteran of the judicial court system in Bonneville County officially retired on Dec 31. Last month, the Magistrate Commission announced Brendon C. Taylor, a 22-year partner with Merrill & Merrill law firm in Pocatello, would be Riddoch’s replacement.
Over the course of his career, Riddoch has handled thousands of family law and criminal cases and has often had to make difficult decisions.
In a phone conversation with EastIdahoNews.com just a few days into his retirement, Riddoch offered a few details on specific cases and other experiences throughout his career. But as he thought about the things he’s going to miss most, he mentioned his colleagues and “the many good people in the valley” he’s been able to associate with over the years.
“One of the most rewarding things and I think that kept me going, was the camaraderie among my fellow judges, terrific, dedicated clerks and administrators, county commissioners and the many good people here in the valley,” Riddoch says.
He also spoke of his 40 grandchildren and says he and his wife will be busy spending time with them.
But even though he’s retired, he isn’t stepping away entirely. Riddoch says he’s still planning to continue to play a small role as a judge for the foreseeable future.
“I have applied and been approved to be a senior judge (a judge who fills in when no magistrate judges are available) probably starting around April or May. PERSI retirement law requires you to wait at least 90 days (before working as a senior judge),” he says. “You work about 36 days a year minimum.”
A look back at nearly 50 years of practicing law
Riddoch was first appointed as a magistrate judge in 1983, but his law career actually began several years prior.
He graduated from the University of Puget Sound law school in Tacoma, Washington in 1975. He worked as an intern with Rigby, Thatcher & Andrus law office in Rexburg for a short time before working as a clerk for District Judge Joel Tingey (who is also retiring on Jan. 18).
Prior to working as a judge, he spent seven and a half years with the Deputy Attorney General’s Office in Boise.
Riddoch says his interest in pursuing a law career began with a popular TV show he watched when he was a kid.
“I date myself, but ‘Perry Mason’ (is a show that made this career look exciting to me),” Riddoch recalls.
Riddoch says one of the biggest challenges for a magistrate judge is the high volume of cases they deal with on a daily basis, and it’s difficult for him to pinpoint a specific case that stands out to him because of that.
“I handle about 400 or 500 divorces every year, including custody cases, paternity cases, adoptions, which can be really interesting. I do recall a case where a couple adopted five children, all siblings. If I remember correctly, they were foster parents first, got attached and were able to proceed to adoption.”
While adoption cases have been some of the most rewarding for Riddoch, he says it often involves the difficult decision of terminating the parental rights of the biological parents. Divorce and child custody cases, along with certain criminal cases, are some of the most difficult, he says.
Changes and highlights
One of the things Riddoch is known for among court staff and defendants is a video in which he explains a person’s Constitutional rights, minimum and maximum penalties for typical misdemeanors and an overview of the judicial process.
“We’ve done two or three versions but the latest one has been around, with some updates, for about 10 years,” Riddoch says.
Seeing cases being filed electronically is one of the biggest procedural changes he’s seen in recent years and Riddoch feels it’s been a major improvement and made the process more efficient.
Over the years, Riddoch says cases of domestic violence seem to have increased.
“There has been a significant change in the last 15 years with the passage of civil protection laws, where a person can file a petition for a protection order with no filing fee. A magistrate judge is supposed to hear that in 24 hours and usually the same day we hear them. There has been a significant increase in those kinds of protection orders,” Riddoch explains.
Changes in civil protection laws have also resulted in protection orders being issued due to harassment, phone harassment, threats, stalking and other similar issues.
Despite the large volume of cases Riddoch has dealt with on a daily basis, which has sometimes included as many as 70 in a day, he says preparation has been a huge priority for him. It involves reviewing the case file and applying the law to the facts in the case.
“I’ve always been a praying man and I always pray prior to going on the bench that I would be able to discern guilt or innocence and apply a fair judgment, balancing accountability and some mercy,” says Riddoch. “I’m sure that has helped me.”
Often, Riddoch says people he has dealt with in court will approach him to say thank you for holding them accountable for their actions. He’s gratified to see people living a productive life after paying their debt to society.
Riddoch is grateful for the association of his colleagues over the years which have made his job as a magistrate judge so satisfying and worthwhile. A farewell party for Riddoch was held Friday at the Bonneville County Courthouse.
As he begins his retirement, Riddoch is looking forward to spending time with his family and says he’d like to do some traveling with his wife once everything opens up again and COVID-19 restrictions have lifted.