After presiding over cases in York County Court for nearly a quarter-century, Senior Common Pleas Judge John C. Uhler on Thursday hung up his robe for good.
"It was time," he said. "The experience has been one that I've valued."
But stepping down from the bench doesn't mean the 70-year-old York County native will no longer be actively involved in York County matters.
"I'm still going to be very much involved in my truancy initiative," Uhler said.
Finding ways to keep kids in school and shepherd them to graduation has been the judge's No. 1 issue for many years. He said it's critical for the York community that those efforts continue.
Fighting truancy: He founded and nurtured the York County Truancy Prevention Initiative and in 2011 was honored for his work by the Children's Rights Committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which named him Child Advocate of the Year.
The initiative's efforts have led schools, parents, the court system, child services workers and others to work together on finding ways to keep children in school.
Uhler said he also hopes to focus on mediation for civil court cases.
Common pleas judges — even senior judges — are prohibited from acting as mediators, he said.
Mediation: Mediating civil cases means averting trials, which could mean a significant reduction in York County Court's caseload, he said.
"I'm very much interested in mediation work and engaging in more complex litigation, which was always my forte in the first (place)," Uhler said.
Uhler took the bench in January 1990 and became a senior judge in 2010.
He was elected acting president judge in September 1995, the first judge to be elected by peers rather than be appointed by seniority, he said. Uhler held the position of president judge until 2001.
Uhler also was a driving force behind getting county officials to agree a new courthouse was needed, resulting in the construction of the York County Judicial Center.
Caseload: But Uhler's full retirement from the bench will mean extra hardship for the existing York County judges.
"We rely on our senior judges more and more because of the judicial vacancies we have," York County Court Administrator Paul Crouse said, adding Uhler "will be sorely missed."
There are two official vacancies on the bench, created when York County Judges Penny L. Blackwell and Sheryl Ann Dorney retired. There is a third vacancy as well, albeit temporary.
Judge Craig T. Trebilcock, a colonel in the Army Reserve, was activated in June and is not expected to return until June 2015, Crouse said.
The numbers: There are 15 common pleas judge positions in York County, and about five of those judges handle the bulk of the criminal caseload. There were about 9,100 criminal cases in the county last year, according to the county Clerk of Courts office.
But state rules limit senior judges to 10 days a month on the bench, according to Crouse.
Blackwell, now a senior judge, is helping with the caseload, as are two other senior judges, both from out of the county, he said.
A scramble: "We will have to scramble to cover hearings we were already scrambling to cover," Crouse said.
The vacancies created when Blackwell and Dorney retired will be on next year's ballot, and the winners will take office in January 2016, he said.
The positions could be filled temporarily by gubernatorial appointment, Crouse confirmed. He said he is unsure whether that will happen but has been told discussions are taking place.
"I think hope burns eternal," Crouse said. "But it's really in the hands of the folks in Harrisburg."