Warrensburg Town Justice Richard Nissen talks about his quarter-century of service to the town and the changes he’s seen through the years.
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.
Changes during his tenure include aspects of his workplace.
Nissen said he also enjoys the ample office space made available through an addition to the Warrensburg Town Hall constructed 10 years ago. For his first 15 years of service, there wasn’t enough space in the court office for him to conduct his work, he said.
While prior justices were accustomed to a lack of public observation — a prior judge for some time conducted court in his chambers — court has in recent years been conducted in an open courtroom with the public observing.
Nissen also has also worked to assure appropriate public access to court records, as required by law.
He said he has appreciated the fact that the Adirondack Journal has regularly published misdemeanors, as well as the felonies also covered by the area daily.
“Suspects hate to see their names in the newspaper, and so do their family members,” he said. “Publishing the cases makes a big difference.”
Warrensburg has two justices, and they preside on alternate Wednesdays. The other local town justice is Mindy Fisk.
Poised to replace Nissen as Warrensburg Town Justice is Bryan Winslow, a former court officer for Warren County. He is the sole candidate that will be on the local ballot this November.