Judge Ronald Hansen remembers the overwhelming feeling of looking at six baskets of 150 paper case files stacked up on his desk during his first day assigned to misdemeanors on the Merced County Superior Court bench, more than 15 years ago.
Now the files are electronic, much to the delight of Hansen as he stood over stacks of hundreds of his old trial and case files on Friday, his last day on the job.
"These are all going to be shredded after I'm gone," Hansen said, adding that much more has changed since he started practicing law in Merced County.
Hansen retired Friday, leaving behind him a legacy of being a steady, efficient and flexible judge.
Hansen, 70, studied at Santa Clara University, receiving his undergraduate degree in political science in 1969, and finishing law school in 1972.
After law school, Hansen was involved with private practice working civil law in Merced County.
Sometimes it was frustrating, he said, because after several years it became difficult to get a courtroom to try a case.
"It's improved since four to five years ago, when we dedicated a specific courtroom for civil trials over $25,000," Hansen said.
He was appointed to the Merced County bench in 2004 by Gov. Gray Davis.
Along with the civil court, Hansen has applauded recent technological enhancements at the courts. One of the most important has been the electronic filing system, he said.
At first, Hansen was skeptical about the change.
"I'm a dinosaur when it comes to technology," he said. "But it wasn't that hard to learn. Now, it's the only way to go."
Another positive change is the way the courts handle drug cases. Instead of incarcerating addicts, the focus is on treatment, with a large number of programs available.
"But addiction is not an easy problem to solve," Hansen said, noting that for many drug offenders coming through his courtroom, it was a matter of maturation and responsibility rather than punishment and treatment that got them on the right track.
Hansen said there is plenty of room for improvement in the justice system in Merced County.
Caseloads for deputy district attorneys and public defenders are too high, he said.
"When you conclude one case and come back, it's like a train," Hansen said. "You've just got to get the caseload done."
Hansen said he hopes more money is allocated to both offices to alleviate the pressure on the attorneys.
One of the largest areas of neglect, Hansen said, is mental health in the county.
"They get nothing," Hansen said, noting that a fair amount of the county's cases are related to mental health.
Hansen pointed to the stack of case files Friday, estimating he has adjudicated about 200 trials.
Merced County Public Defender Chris Loethen said that number is likely more than 300 trials.
"That man showed up every day ready to work no matter what," Loethen said. "He was a workhorse."
Loethen said Hansen understood the importance of allowing attorneys the freedom to defend their clients in the best way they knew how.
"He also understood the courtroom can be a fun place to work," Loethen said. "He valued substance over style ... and because he allowed some formality, work got done."
Hansen also encouraged trials, Loethen said. Deputy District Attorney Matt Serratto agreed.
"I think it's his work ethic," Serratto said. "He likes pushing us in there to do trials, but he lets us work too."
Serratto said Hansen sat on a large percentage of the Merced Superior Court's trials. And in those trials, he was flexible to allow cases to move around.
"Too many times to mention, he had a sense on when to stick his neck out for a defendant," Serratto said. "He was a great asset to this county."
Now, Hansen plans on starting a new chapter of his life tending to his 170 acres of almond orchards in Merced and Stanislaus counties with his wife.
"I do value the opportunity to work with smart, capable lawyers and staff," Hansen said.