Tracy Linn, center, and Kandi Flinchbaugh, left, help Senior Magisterial District Judge Paul M. Diehl Jr., who has retired after 55 years on the bench.
Tracy Linn, center, and Kandi Flinchbaugh, left, help Senior Magisterial District Judge Paul M. Diehl Jr., who has retired after 55 years on the bench. (Bil Bowden photo)

After 55 years on the bench, Pennsylvania's longest-serving magisterial district judge isn't looking for another career.

But if Senior District Judge Paul M. Diehl Jr. wanted his second act, he might try stand-up comedy.

Speaking to a room filled with friends and colleagues Tuesday during his surprise retirement party, he recalled Common Pleas Judge Sheryl Ann Dorney once saying of him, "The North and South were still fighting when he (took office)."

Diehl confided to the crowd that he almost missed his own shindig.

He explained he got a bit snarky when York County Court Administrator Tom Roberts sent him an email recently advising Diehl needed to come to the county Judicial Center on Tuesday for an exit interview.

A ruse: Diehl said he advised Roberts he was a state employee, not a county employee, and that he most certainly did not have to come in. There was no interview, of course -- it was merely a ruse to get Diehl to the party.

At that point, friend and fellow Senior District Judge Roger Estep stepped in, as did the solicitor for the state district judges' association, and Diehl relented to the "interview," which consisted of a few questions before the party was sprung on him.

"I was asked, 'What's the one most important thing you'd change (about the system),'" Diehl told the crowd. "I said, 'Get your pencil.'"

Standing 'O': His remarks were received with bursts of applause and a standing ovation from a crowd that included at least 17 current and former York County district judges, their staff members, Common Pleas Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh, York County Commissioner Chris Reilly, District Attorney Tom Kearney, county employees and others.

"(Diehl) epitomized what judges should stand for," Linebaugh said.

The county commissioners issued a proclamation honoring Diehl's lifetime of public service, and state Sen. Mike Waugh, R-York, sent a congratulatory proclamation as well.

York's seven state representatives all signed a citation honoring Diehl for his "extraordinary" contributions and for having the "highest standards of service and justice.

Wants to help: Diehl, 80, of Menges Mills, was appointed Heidelberg Township's district justice by Gov. George Leader on Sept. 24, 1957 and has been presiding in district courts since then.

He retired from full-time duties in May 1992, but continued to serve as a senior district judge, filling in when other magistrates were out of the office, needed help with burgeoning caseloads or had conflicts of interest.

"I'm going to miss it. It's part of my life," he said. "I enjoy the challenge of the bench, and helping people."

The only reason he's stepping aside is because state law requires senior district judges to retire at age 80, a milestone Diehl hit in January.

"Otherwise I'd probably stick around for awhile," he said.

Over the years, Diehl has worked in every district judge office in York County, including 4-1/2 years in the Springettsbury office.

Mentor: "Judge Diehl is my mentor," retired District Judge Kim Leppo said. "When he retired, I was appointed to his office by Gov. Casey."

Senior Judge Estep also cited Diehl as his mentor for more than three decades.

"He's always been someone to look up to and learn from," agreed Senior District Judge Barbara Nixon.

Retired Red Lion-area District Judge Doug Meisenhelter was still a York City police officer when he met Diehl at least 40 years ago.

"He was a gentleman then ... and he's a gentleman now," Meisenhelter said.

What's next: Diehl and his wife, Joyce, plan to travel.

"I think it's time," Joyce said of her husband's retirement. "He doesn't, because he enjoys the job so much."

The retired judge said he also plants to hunt, fish and spend time with family.

The Diehls have two sons and two daughters, all in Central Pennsylvania, plus eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.