The bad news is that Doug Boyack is hanging up his robe after nearly 20 years on the Tuolumne County Superior Court bench.
The good news is that Boyack is putting that robe back on almost every day, as a state-assigned judge filling his own vacancy. He’ll continue to do so until Gov. Jerry Brown appoints a permanent replacement, and that could be months or even a year away.
Even after that, Judge Boyack may fill in on occasion, both here and in counties around the state.
Yes, after two decades on the bench and another 14 as a prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office, the 63-year-old jurist deserves a rest. But we’re happy he’s sticking around awhile longer, because this soft-spoken, thoughtful man seems ideally suited to the job.
“A good lawyer is a street fighter in a suit,” Boyack told reporter Ashley Archibald in retirement interview. “That was never my style.”
So he left the DA’s office to run for judge in 1990, edging out future colleague Eleanor Provost for the Central Judicial District judgeship. We didn’t get a hanging judge or a “Maximum Doug,” dispensing the stiffest of penalties allowed regardless of circumstances.
Instead — and not all prosecutors appreciated the trait — Boyack would look for redeeming qualities in the defendants before him. “I think almost everyone is capable of recognizing errors in judgment, making better choices and coming to higher ground,” he said.
He should know: Although a perfect gentleman, Boyack over the many years saw embezzlers, thieves, molesters, addicts, abductors, vandals, swindlers, wife beaters, car thieves and more come through his court. He extended all the benefit of the doubt, although some wouldn’t take it.
And he wasn’t averse to humor when the occasion called for it.
“Long lunch break, huh?” the judge once told an escapee who had walked away from a Sierra Conservation Center work crew 25 years earlier.
“With any luck, you’ll be home for Christmas,” he consoled the fugitive after sentencing. “Not this year, but next year.”
Boyack was easy to recognize, tall and wearing one of his colorful, hand-knotted bow ties. But come February, he might also be found wearing a stovepipe hat, reciting the Gettysburg address and dispensing the wit and wisdom of his favorite politician, Abe Lincoln.
The judge’s departure creates a vacancy on a county bench that’s been remarkably stable and effective.
Presiding Judge Eric DuTemple has served since 1993 and Eleanor Provost began as a part-time judge in Groveland in 1982. Jim Boscoe was appointed court commissioner in 1997 and judge in 2006. Kim Knowles was appointed commissioner in 2006.
Add Boyack’s 20 years, and their total comes to an impressive 84 years of judicial experience.
He was an integral part of that team, and we urge the governor’s office to use diligence and care in appointing his successor.
Meanwhile, we’d like Judge Boyack to know that he and his bow ties are welcome in Tuolumne County’s courtrooms any time.