Hamilton City Judge Michael Reardon was quick to put to rest any notion that his recently announced retirement in mid-term was due to some dissatisfaction with the job. He said it wasn’t any frustration with the job or for any lack of support from the city. So why is he retiring now?
“I’m seventy-two and a half years old and I’m not getting any younger,” said Reardon simply.
As for the job, he said, “Actually it’s been a blessing and a pleasure, especially in the last few years with the high quality of legal practice in the court, a first rate police department, and wonderful court clerks. I’m just worn out.” In his seventy-two plus years of life he has spent 51 of them involved in law and 47 of them as a licensed attorney.
Reardon went to law school at George Washington University in Washington D.C. in 1969 and graduated in 1972. He said it was “a time of never ending, large scale anti-war demonstrations. It was the beginning of the Green Peace movement and the environmental movement. Catholic priests were sheltering illegal immigrants because they really needed help and then getting sued for it. Then there was Nixon and the Watergate scandal.”
Then came the Laos intervention in the Vietnam War. Reardon was a Marine Lieutenant on in-active duty going to law school, the whole time living in Washington D.C. First on E Street in northwest Washington, about five blocks from the Capitol in one direction, ten blocks from the White House in the other direction, he could see the Smithsonian Gallery out of his apartment window.
After that he spent 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps serving as a judge advocate. He also received infantry training. As a judge advocate, he spent about nine of nine and half of those years in Fleet Marine Force Units. When not doing that, he did court martial work, environmental law and employment work. “The usual things that a military lawyer would do,” he said.
During his service, Reardon served in a brigade-sized unit in Okinawa and then bounced around between Okinawa, Korea and the Philippines for about 13 months before reporting back and expecting to be stationed as a deputy judge advocate at Camp Pendleton. But the Colonel said they were looking for a judge advocate in the First Marine Division.
Reardon said, “Heck, I’ll do that.” He packed up again and headed across the quad and reported for duty, went to a staff meeting and realized they were shipping out in three days.
“Not a headquarters element, not a regiment, the whole damned First Marine Division, 10,000 marines,” he said, “airplane load after airplane load, after airplane load.” They landed in Bahrain – then formed up divisions and regiments in Saudi Arabia and moved further and further out into the desert.
Reardon joined in a mechanized assault through minefields and burning oil fields, to get to what he called the “ghost town” of Kuwait City.
“It was an experience,” he said. “Almost no one was hurt or injured. But there were scary moments.”
“I remember sitting out in the desert one night on the edge of my fighting hole, just watching the Air Force and the Navy fly by. Nothing but airplanes from horizon to horizon on bombing missions. Not close, but you could hear the noise and sometimes feel the ground shake,” he said.
It was after the war when the Marine Corps was downsizing that Reardon made his move to Montana “by accident,” he said.
He had met fellow attorney Jim Shockley in the service and become good friends over a period of six or seven years. He said they both retired from the service at about the same time and Shockley lured him to the Bitterroot in 1992.
“I drove non-stop from Camp Pendleton to Hamilton,” said Reardon.
Not only did Shockley help him get set up in the law business in the Bitterroot, he was instrumental in getting him to apply for work at the Ravalli County Attorney’s office where he would end up working for a number of years.
“It was Jim who came into the office one day,” said Reardon, “and he could tell that I was bored silly and miserably unhappy in the private practice of law and he said to go down and talk to County Attorney George Corn. He said Corn was looking for someone to serve as a deputy attorney.”
“I did and he did, and the rest is history,” said Reardon. He said what followed was interesting. There was the Montana Militia prosecutions plus the usual felony work on routine crimes.
“Some of them pretty stomach churning, but that’s the nature of the business,” said Reardon.
When he was sued over not returning a watch to the proper owner and a book was published about it in which he was quoted making some “unfortunate remarks,” Reardon decided to try outfitting once again, but this too didn’t pan out when the outfitter got sick and the whole thing shut down.
Reardon said he wandered around town for a while and ran into Hamilton City Judge Sanders who was thinking of retiring and was looking around for someone to replace her.
“I was hired about two weeks later to fill out her term and I’ve been doing it now for 14 years,” he said. “If it weren’t for the under-privileged class of petty offenders I would have had no one to talk to for the last 14 years. I don’t mean to speak disparagingly of them. But the sad fact of the matter is a lot of the offenses I see as a city judge are basically poverty influenced, if not poverty caused.”
“It’s been a long study in human nature,” said Reardon. “When I was a felony prosecutor in the Marine Corps prosecutions were easy. We went out and we dealt with the bad guys. As a judge in a small city court, I deal with heartbroken people.”
Reardon said now that he doesn’t hunt, fish or ride anymore, he’s “quite content to sit in my easy chair and puzzle through Aristotle, Plato and Thucydides and those great literary artists and try to read it in Greek.”
He said he has family on the East Coast he would like to visit, but mainly he wants to retire before falling asleep at his desk in the afternoon or doing something that might be embarrassing or embarrass the court.
He has a lot of philosophical studies he wants to pursue. He said he also wants to spend more time with his wife.
“Typical old guy stuff,” he said. “But I’ve got a lot of memories.”