Set to Move On
Circuit Judge Looks Back on Distinguished Judicial Career
December 27, 2006
PIERRE Next week marks 6th Circuit Judge Max Gors' last day behind the bench in Pierre, but Pierre has not lost him for good.
"I've been here 36 years, and I'm not about to leave now," Gors said. "Well, unless George Bush appoints me to the Supreme Court, then I wouldn't have a problem heading to Washington D.C."
The jovial Gors has decided to leave his post with the 6th Circuit Court, which spans the midsection of the state, to take a position in Pierre as a staff attorney for the South Dakota Department of Corrections, even after being re-elected to his post in November.
"Every once in a while an opportunity presents itself," Gors said, "and you either take it or you don't, and I did. It was just an opportunity I thought I should take."
Gors is now the presiding judge in the 6th circuit, which, he said, is like being the guy in charge of the office.
Gors grew up on a farm in Turner County, near Sioux Falls, and while in college Gors said he thought he wanted to teach history.
"My mother was a teacher, and she said, 'no, you should do something different.' So I said, 'well how about law school,' and she thought that sounded good," Gors said.
From his college days at Augustana College in Sioux Falls , Gors went on to practice law in Pierre and while presiding as a magistrate judge, Gors ran his only contested race for circuit court judge in 1990.
Since then, one of Gors' most memorable cases was the murder trial of David Aesoph, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2002 for the 1999 murder of his wife, Tania.
"It was a classic trial, with outstanding prosecution and defense lawyers. Almost every legal issue you could imagine in a murder trial was involved in that trial," Gors said. "We had experts on blood spatter, experts in injury reconstruction and three pathologists who testified, which is unique."
Reflecting on the half dozen murder trials he has presided over, Gors compared his profession to that of a highway patrolman.
"As a highway patrolman you spend most of your days writing speeding tickets, but then there's the one day where you capture a murderer or a bank robber," Gors said. "And for me, there's the routine paperwork, the squabbles between people, divorces, custody cases, small claims, but once in a while you have a really big deal."
Some of the really big deals that came through his courtroom recently were the many election cases he tried this fall, some of which were filed by parties claiming the explanation of a particular side of an issue wasn't spelled out fairly in the state's ballot question pamphlet.
Concerning Attorney General Larry Long's alleged misrepresentation of Amendment E, Judge Gors ruled that:
“[T]he attorney generalís ballot statement is 1) objective and 2) clear and simple and it states 3) the purpose and effect and 4) the legal consequences of the proposed JAIL constitutional amendment.”
"Those were exciting and interesting," he said. "And important for all of South Dakota."
Gors said he has come along way since the first day he put on his black robe, when he had previously been on the other side of the bench.
"I'd been a lawyer for a long time, and I sat down during my first case and thought, 'I know what they're supposed to do, but what am I supposed to do.' I just said to one of the attorneys, 'you may proceed,' and so it did, and it worked out from there," Gors said.
Gors said his philosophy on presiding over a courtroom is simple.
"We have a service that almost nobody wants," he said, "because no one wants to get arrested, but it's also one that is in high demand."
Gors considered his service no different from running a store or a gas station.
"I'm dispensing a service, and I need to provide fair, prompt and polite service," he said. "It doesn't matter if a guy murdered his wife or his best friend, he is still entitled to a fair trial and to be treated like a human being. Sometimes that can be hard to do," he said.
And while a career change is soon approaching for Gors, one thing that won't change for him is his stamp collection jar on his desk and one of his many spare-time fillers duck hunting.
"Yeah, I just hunt ducks mainly. A long time ago, when I realized I didn't have time to do all the things I wanted to do, I decided that if I could only do one thing it would be to hunt ducks," he said.
Copyright 2006, Capital Journal
From: Capital Journal, Pierre, South Dakota, December 27, 2006, http://www.capjournal.com/main.asp?SectionID=2&SubSectionID=2&ArticleID=16456, accessed December 30, 2006. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.