SANDPOINT — Idaho Supreme Court statistics reflect favorably upon Judge Steve Verby’s tenure on the 1st District bench.
Since being elected in 2002 and taking the bench in 2003, Verby handled more than 8,500 felony criminal and civil cases, 205 of which were appealed.
In those 205 appeals, higher courts affirmed Verby’s rulings 101 times and reversed him outright 13 times. His rulings were affirmed in part and reversed in part six times. The remaining 85 cases were dismissed prior to the rendering of a higher court’s opinion.
Idaho Supreme Court statistics further show that Verby’s caseload nearly doubled while he was on the bench. He took on 588 new civil and criminal filings in 2003. By 2010, new filings swelled to 974, making him one of the busiest district judges in the state.
Although new filings fell to 829 in 2011 and 775 in 2012, Verby expects to be part of the solution to the burgeoning case loads in the northern Panhandle as a senior district judge.
Senior judges are retired from full-time work, but they remain available to hear cases on an as-needed basis.
As for his time on the bench, Verby said his experience as a deputy prosecutor, defense attorney and private civil counsel made for few surprises. But he admits that the “case load explosion” was a bit of curve ball.
So was the growing number of drug abuse cases that are typically associated with urban areas.
“What’s most concerning is seeing a rise in heroin use and possession,” said Verby, who counted just eight cases when he took office, but has seen as many as 30 cases in the last two years.
Verby attributes part of the increase to recreational use of prescription medication containing synthetic opioids gone awry.
With pills costing up to $10 apiece on the street, it’s not uncommon for addicts to resort to heroin, which can be less costly.
“It becomes a matter of economics,” he said.
As for memorable experiences on the bench, Verby recalled watching well-prepared attorneys attempt to spring traps on their equally prepared counterparts in a case against crooked staff at a Kootenai County nursing facility. Also memorable, but for disturbing reasons, were the sexual abuse cases.
“The cases that were hardest to deal with are sex offenses involving underage people,” said Verby.
He also admits to bearing witness to travesty in drug cases involving mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. In some of those situations, state law required one decision, but justice demanded another, Verby said.
Verby said there have been countless touching moments in district court, a place where verdicts and rulings can strip people of their personal liberty for extended periods of time or shift staggering sums of money.
As a result, emotions and stress tend to run high during the proceedings.
“It is the ultimately reality show,” said Verby.
A common misunderstanding about district judges, Verby said, is that they can unilaterally or automatically resolve every dispute.
“The biggest misconception is people think they can have a judge look at their case, look at the facts and make things right,” he said.
Verby said the advice he received in a letter from former Judge Dar Cogswell served him well. Cogswell essentially urged Verby to understand and realize that the people that come before him in court deserve respect, compassion and patience.
Verby said he’s worked to heed that advice, in addition to trying to make district court more user-friendly.
“From my perspective, I — and believe most judges — try to do the right thing in accordance with the law and the facts regardless of personalities in a case,” Verby added.