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Judge Steps Down After Nine Years: Salinas Native Gary Meyer Retires for Life in Tennessee

July 16, 2008

By Virginia Hennessey, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.

Jul. 16–In the midst of a judicial election and the investiture of a new jurist, Judge Gary Meyer has quietly retired after nine years on the Monterey County Superior Court bench.

While his official retirement is not until the end of month, Meyer used up his vacation and heard his last calendar in the King City Courthouse on Friday. He and his wife, Janan, were on the road Tuesday for their new home in Nashville, Tenn.

His departure leaves the Monterey County bench in its perpetually short-handed status, even after the swearing in Friday of Judge Tom Wills and the pending investiture in January of the winner of the run-off election between prosecutors Todd Hornik and Mark Hood.

Wills was appointed to replace former Judge Jose Velasquez, who was removed for misconduct. Wills was a candidate to fill the seat vacated by the retirement of Judge Stephen Sillman. That seat will go to Hornik or Hood.

Meyer’s quiet exit was the subject of ribbing at Wills’ investiture Friday. Judge Robert O’Farrell said he was disappointed to see Meyer was not present at the ceremony and hoped his colleague was able to attend Wills’ celebration later that evening so Meyer could thank Wills’ for throwing his going-away party.

Meyer’s pending retirement was announced in a press release from the court, which said he and his wife were moving to Nashville to be near their sons’ families, including six grandchildren.

Meyer, a Salinas native and 24-year veteran of the Monterey County District

Attorney’s Office, left the bench without the controversy that accompanied his arrival, and with the support of both sides of the bar.

The judge was appointed to the bench in 1999 in the final hours of Gov. Pete Wilson’s tenure and was sworn in before Democratic Gov. Gray Davis took office. The following week, the state Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation issued an unprecedented press release saying it had found Meyer “unqualified” for the bench.

Most members of the local justice system were outraged by release of information from what is supposed to be a secret review system. Meyer’s supporters attributed the action to the running feud between Wilson and the Bar, whose operations the governor had stymied because of what he felt were political activities.

In the intervening years, the past two spent in King City, Meyer heard mostly criminal cases, earning the respect of defense attorneys and prosecutors.

“Judge Meyer has been a hard-working and even-handed asset to the court,” said Public Defender Jim Egar. His departure “will be a big loss to Monterey County.”

District Attorney Dean Flippo said Meyer was something of a “legend” in the prosecutor’s office and retained his reputation as a fair and positive person when he reached the bench.

“He had a tremendous wit and an amazing ability with words, in particular with writing,” he said. “When he took the bench … he continued to be very patient and he had that amazing wit.”

Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz fondly recalled when Meyer, a Jimmy Buffet fan who plays bass and saxophone, entertained his co-workers with song.

Meyer’s most-remembered prosecution resulted in the convictions of four men for the murder of James Ward during a home-invasion robbery in Salinas in June 1991. Spitz said Meyer’s sensitive handling of the case helped Ward’s family get through the aftermath.

Ward’s wife, Cheryl, spoke at Meyer’s swearing in ceremony in 1999, saying he enabled her to “become not a victim, but a victor.

“He is my hero,” she said.

Monterey County Behavioral Health Supervisor Lynn Maddock praised Meyer’s “compassion and legal acumen” while presiding over the mental health court, where mentally ill offenders are provided “an opportunity to benefit from mental health treatment rather than just jail.”

Assistant Presiding Judge Adrienne Grover said she will remember Meyer as someone who loved his job.

“He valued the opportunity to treat everyone with dignity, to help where he could and make tough decisions where needed,” she said. “He was a team player who was well-regarded by both the prosecution and defense.”

Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or vhennessey@montereyherald.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.

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