Judge Sanders bids the bench adieu

Graham County Superior Court Judge D. Corey Sanders will officially retire March 30.

By Jon Johnson

jonjohnsonnews@gmail.com

SAFFORD – After nearly two decades as a magistrate and the last 15 years as Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem, Judge D. Corey Sanders is hanging up his robes for the last time.

Judge Sanders has already retired from being Safford Magistrate (they missed him so much they consolidated the magistrate courts to make up for the loss) and will officially retire from his position as Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem on March 30. Local attorney Travis Ragland has been appointed by Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael D. Peterson to replace Sanders.

While saying Judge Sanders is hanging his robes up for the last time might be an attempt to announce his retirement from the bench in a “cute” way, anyone who actually knows Sanders realizes that is a bit of a misnomer since he rarely, if ever, wears his judge’s robes while presiding over his courtroom.

Nevertheless, it is an honor to write about the retirement of a man whom I have known since I first stepped into Safford from San Diego.

Judge Sanders is, of course, much more than just a judge. His community service work and dealings with his church and the Boy Scouts could fill volumes. But this is about his retirement from the bench, so that is what we shall focus upon.

Over the years, Judge Sanders has made thousands and thousands of decisions that affected numerous families in the Gila Valley. He said, naturally, he always wanted to do what was fair but that he found it troubling how people could take a stance on a decision he made without anything to back up their opinions.

“The hardest part was knowing that pretty much every position that I made was going to be subject to much criticism,” Sanders said. “I am amazed at how many times people would show their opinion that I did the wrong thing or the right thing without even knowing any facts behind the case or not knowing what I knew about the case. I’m just pretty surprised that all the decisions could be interpreted as wrong . . . The job of judging, I think, is very, very misunderstood and very much under-appreciated. Everybody thinks that they know what the right answer should be, but the judge gets to hear the facts and then gets to apply the law.”

There were plenty of good times as well, and Sanders spotlighted his decision to start the juvenile drug court as a bright spot in his tenure.

“That has been very rewarding to me,” he said. “To see young people who have gotten into drugs and to help them by giving them tools and resources so they can decide for themselves to not be caught up into the drug lifestyle – that’s been very rewarding over the years. We’ve really helped dozens of kids in that program . . . Many times we’ve had kids here who have been successful at school and have been able to stay drug-free and they’ll point back to their experience at drug court as what really turned them around.”

Through it all, Judge Sanders said he appreciated getting to know the families behind the cases.

“Some of the cases I hear today are the same cases I heard in 2003,” he said. “That has been a real eye-opening experience to me how a conflict between parents takes a toll on the kids. It’s been something that’s educational and very rewarding for me to try to give them (the children) a voice in court.”

While he is praised by his contemporaries for his fairness in court, Judge Sanders’ presence will be missed.

“On behalf of the citizens of Graham County, I would like to thank Judge Sanders for his many years of service and his efforts on behalf of the people of Graham County,” Judge Peterson said. “We will miss him and certainly wish him the best in the future. He was a very popular judge.”

While presiding as the Safford Magistrate and Graham County Pro Tem, Judge Sanders somehow managed to fulfill a very time-consuming church calling and write a book “Shinar 54” when most of us presumably would be sleeping. Sanders told The Gila Herald that he wrote Shinar 54 in six months and that with his time opening up he would like to revisit the book to polish it and write more books.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I’ll have time now.”

In his retirement, Judge Sanders looks to go on a senior mission for his church but will look after a family member who has failing health first. Even in retirement, he will still be looking out for others and giving his time to the betterment of the world around him.

“It’s really been some good years,” Judge Sanders said. “I’ve rather enjoyed working here very much. I’ve learned a lot.”     

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