Arthur K. Cook picked up the box of Kleenex and offered it to the testifying witness. She just began to tear, but the district judge was ready.
He is on the fifth box of tissues for this year.
“It is very emotional,” he said about what goes on in his courtroom on a daily basis.
Presiding over hearings at the magisterial level can be complex, challenging and critical to the community. Cook loves it. The more difficult and demanding the case, the more the former businessman enjoys it.
Cook will soon begin the last year of his third term in the Somerset magisterial district office. He will not run for a fourth term.
He still loves his work and would be happy to serve a couple more years. However, state law has a mandatory age limit of 70 for district judges. He would reach that age before the end of a fourth term if he ran and won.
He is announcing his retirement now because he wants to give those who want to run for the position more time to prepare.
“I have compassion and empathy for anyone running for election,” he said.
Cook doesn’t want to be “selfish.” He wants voters to have the ability to independently pick their next district judge, who realistically will probably serve them for at least two terms, or 12 years, he said. Cook explained that if he ran and won, after two years, he would have to step down and someone would be appointed in his place.
He believes retiring early is the fair and decent thing to do.
That is the way he has ruled from the bench for the last 17 years. It is how he chooses to live his life.
Fairness and treating people decent is paramount, Cook said.
“It is to the heart of my soul,” he said.
He defines fairness in his courtroom.
“It is not only allowing each person to express their view points, but to make sure I understand what their view point is and also understand each person involved in a situation sees their own truth and to them that is the real truth.”
He has learned much about human nature as a judge.
“I look from the bench at the victims and their families and I see their faces and how terrible they look. Then I look from the bench at the defendants and their families, and I see the same look,” he said.
He quotes an eastern philosophy that he has adopted.
“There are no bad people; there is only bad behavior.”
Cook spends time talking to the defendants, encouraging them and giving them life advice.
“I learned from my own experiences and I share that,” he said.
Cook often does that with the attorneys and courtroom visitors between hearings. He is known to converse about many wide ranging topics such as eastern philosophy, protecting the environment and how machines work.
He likes to laugh. But when he is working, he sits and listens, often with his chin in his hand, scribbling down notes or occasionally asking questions.
“I care and it takes its toll,” he said. “Every day a little bit more is chiseled out of me.”
When Cook first became a district judge he slept very little. He ran cases and his decisions repeatedly in his head. He sleeps well now.
He is proud of his staff and what his office has accomplished over the years. For example, after being a champion of credit card payments for defendants for nearly seven years, it came to be, and has proven to be a time and money saver, he said.
He will miss the election process.
The first time he ran for office, Cook’s campaign staff consisted of himself, his wife, Maxine, and a lifetime friend.
His win was one of the rare ones. He had everything going against him.
He was not a member of the state legal bar. He was not certified. He was going into battle against a well-entranced incumbent. Yet he managed to win both party primaries and went on to beat the incumbent. He credits his staff of two and divine intervention.
After he won, Cook had to be certified — and fast. He had to take a month-long intensive legal educational program and pass it.
“I had only one shot at it,” he said. About 40 percent of his class did not pass, but Cook was not one of them. He was officially a member of the state minor judiciary the day he took his first oath of office.
As far as what happened to his staff from that first election — he is still happily married after 42 years to his best friend, Maxine, who he said is everything to him and she is beyond brilliant. As for his life-long friend, Cook recently officiated at his wedding.
“I am truly blessed. I am the luckiest guy I know,” he said.
Over 17 years District Judge Arthur K. Cook’s office has:
* Processed nearly 200,000 cases
* Conducted nearly 38,000 hearings
* Collected nearly $22 million in fines and court costs
* Performed the county’s first video arraignment