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Retiring Town Justice reflects on quarter century of service

Warrensburg Town Justice Richard Nissen talks about his quarter-century of service to the town and the changes he’s seen through the years.

Warrensburg Town Justice Richard Nissen talks about his quarter-century of service to the town and the changes he’s seen through the years. Photo by Thom Randall.

— For a generation, a man with a resolute look and square jaw — yet a warm heart — has presided over thousands of court cases in the town of Warrensburg.

Town Justice Richard Nissen, 79, has now decided to step down after a quarter-century of service. He intends to serve through Dec. 31.

This week, he talked about his work as a local judge, and what it meant to him.

Effective justice, he said, is more about changing lives for the better, rather than merely doling out punishment.

A run-in with the law, concluding with a court session, can be a wake-up call for some people, prompting them to join mainstream society, he said.

“Some people you can help, some you can’t,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed seeing a good number of people that have stood before me change their lives, grow as people and not be involved with the justice system anymore.”

Through his quarter-century as justice, Nissen has seen some changes, he said.

First, there are a lot more cases than in the the mid-1980s.

In recent years, there’s been far more marijuana possession violations, and a wide variety of drug-related crimes, he said.

“We’re now seeing a lot of drug arrests,” he said. “When I started out, drug crimes were very rare. We’re also seeing more domestic disputes and we’re issuing more orders of protection.”

Also, in accordance with more stringent state recommendations, a court security officer now stands on guard.

It’s not that Nissen has needed much protection, however.

Despite doling out punishment to people from all backgrounds and inclinations, he’s never had much problem with maintaining order in court, he said.

“I have a loud voice when I need it, and a gavel,” he said with a smile.

Also, he’s not really had to worry about personal security out-of-court. Nissen’s phone number is listed publicly — and to date, no convicts or suspects have bothered him at home.

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