PERU - The first of January will mark the start of a new year and the start of a new chapter in the life of the Hon. Peter Keenan.
Keenan will officially step down as Peru Town Justice after serving the position for the past 24 years. Earlier this year, the Peru native decided not to seek reelection to a seventh four-year term, citing a desire to spend more time with family and to simply "not be as tied down."
"I just felt it was time," said Keenan. "Twenty-four years is a long time."
Keenan found the town justice system at a time when he was looking to get politically involved in the town. There were no town council positions available for him to run for during that election season, so, he set his sights on the judicial bench.
"I decided I wanted to get involved and at that time it was the only position available on the Democratic slate," he said.
However, Keenan's decision to run for town justice wasn't an arbitrary one. Having retired six years prior as a correction officer at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora - a career which spanned 26 years - and with a degree in criminal justice from Clinton Community College, Keenan felt he had the background to serve the position.
"It was still always a learning experience," said Keenan. "Each time there was a case, you got a little more insight."
There were many difficult cases over the years, said Keenan. The occasional murder case, which eventually moved on to a higher court, and cases involving youths were ones which didn't sit well with Keenan. However, when youths who committed crimes made efforts to change their ways, he said that was one of the greatest things to see during his time on the bench.
"When you would see young fellows come back and thank you for coming down on them and change the direction they were heading, that was something. And, it did happen," said Keenan. "Unfortunately, we did have a lot of cases like that in this town, but when you do send a few to jail and that wakes them up. They realize that's not what they want to do."
"It doesn't turn them all around, but it's nice when you see the ones it does and they come back to tell you that," he added.
What Keenan will miss most about being a town justice is the people, he said. Dozens turned out to surprise him with a retirement party at Cricket's Restaurant Dec. 16. Those who were there or who sent him well wishes are the ones he'll miss, he said.
"And, of course, my court clerk," Keenan said, referring to Donna Redden, who has served with him all but about nine of his 24 years. "She's been a big help to me and she made my job so much easier. "
As for his retirement, Keenan said he has no formal plans other than to spend more time with family, including his wife of 53 years, Maryann.
"It's just time not to be tied down for once," he said. "Maybe in a few years, I might change my mind. But, for right now, it's just time to not be tied down."
James P. Kirby, who was elected by the voters in November to succeed Keenan, will assume the role of town justice Jan. 1.