- Associated Press - Saturday, October 1, 2016

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) - After two years in retirement, Judge Thomas Quirk is finally getting what he wants: the chance to go back to work.

Quirk was forced to retire in 2014 from Lake Charles City Court - where he served as a judge for 36 years - because his 70th birthday fell right before another six-year election term. But in July, he saw a way back in.

Judges in 14th Judicial District Court approved a new position a year ago that allows a retired judge once elected by the people to be appointed by the state Supreme Court under the title of judge supernumerary, with no age limitation. Quirk pursued the position once the existing supernumerary, Judge Arthur Planchard, retired in June.

“This job is a lifesaver to me,” Quirk said. He said going to work every day gives him much more fulfillment than spending time by himself. He said he’s “happy as a tick on a dog” to be able to do what he loves again.

Quirk said state laws requiring judges to retire after age 70 amount to “age discrimination.” He believes people are sufficiently protected from errant judges through the re-election process and the judiciary committee - which has the authority to impeach judges.

“I think that if a person has the mental ability and the physical ability to do their job, they should be allowed to do it,” Quirk said. The supernumerary position gave him this opportunity.

His salary is paid by the Police Jury and is re-evaluated every six months by the other district judges. The position allows Quirk to take misdemeanor pleas - meaning he can preside over misdemeanor trials - though he is unable to preside over felony trials.

Judge Clayton Davis said this gives other judges the chance to devote more time to felony cases. He said the supernumerary position has made positive changes at the district court and that Judge Quirk was a solid choice for the job.

Quirk was a great fit because he’s retired, energetic and really wants this job,” Davis said.

Quirk works three days a week: Mondays on felony and traffic arraignments, Tuesdays on misdemeanor arraignments and Thursdays on misdemeanor trials.

Although this will limit time with his grandchildren, Quirk said his close-knit family won’t be fazed by a little adjustment in hours.

He has kept himself busy with family, temporary judicial work and church volunteering over the past two years.

He handled felony arraignments at the District Attorney’s Office for a short time and filled in via temporary appointment at Sulphur and Lafayette city courts when a judge was ill or had a conflict of interest.

Quirk has also stayed busy with volunteer work. He is a longtime member of Christian World, where he works on the media team as a camera operator. He also continues to lead the recovery group, Overcomers, on Mondays at Glad Tidings Church and Thursdays at Christian World.

Overcomers gives people suffering from various addictions the chance to overcome obstacles together, Quirk said. He said the program’s message is an invaluable one for all people.

“That’s what life is - overcoming,” he said. This attitude carries over into his philosophy as a judge as well.

Quirk said his primary goal when judging a case is to help defendants overcome obstacles in the long run. He wants to make a change in the way people think, and ultimately in the way they act.

“Our objective is to see that we don’t see them again,” he said.

He said the best way to accomplish this change is to treat defendants like valuable and equal human beings and to take the time to educate them on how they can change.

“It helps to be talked to like a person,” Quirk said. “Many times I believe just this and nothing more will help change someone.”

He said the judges of the 14th Judicial District are some of the best in the state because they listen to people and consider the whole person before they reach decisions on sentencing.

Quirk said the court has also instituted specialized programs - like drug court and mental health court - that focus on rehabilitation.

He plans to stay on the bench “as long as they’ll let me.” He said that throughout his “retirement,” he hopes to continue doing the only thing that makes life worthwhile - helping people overcome.

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Information from: American Press, http://www.americanpress.com

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