Today is the 69th birthday for County Judge Russ Harford of Chadron – and his first day of retirement as he officially stepped down shortly after one final afternoon of court yesterday.
Harford thought about retiring several times in recent years before deciding to go through with it this time.
He says he’s getting old and after working full-time for 50 years, he wants to spend more time with his wife going to the activities of their grandchildren.
Harford says he’s also looking forward to flyfishing in Spearfish Canyon, something he did a lot growing up in Lead but hasn’t done since just after high school. He’s planning to get some new equipment, though, calling what he’s got now “antiques.”
Harford has been a county judge since 2009 and says he’s loved the job, so he has mixed feelings about leaving it.
Judges in County Court handle many misdemeanors and citations, although they frequently are the first step in felony cases such as murder – holding preliminary hearings and determining if those cases should go to trial in district court.
As a result, Harford says what he remembers best is the repeated process and not any specific or high-profile cases.
Harford’s road to the bench was a bit meandering. After graduating from high school in 1971, he wanted to work for the summer at the huge Homestake Gold Mine in Lead but couldn’t because he was still 17 until September.
He instead became a police and fire dispatcher in Lead, planning to go to work at the mine the following summer but the workers went on strike.
Harford says he’d been intrigued by an FBI recruiter in high school and became an FBI clerk in Washington, DC, in part because the agency had a program giving clerks with a 4-year degree priority for agent classes.
About a year before he was to get his degree, the FBI dropped the program and Harford decided to become a state trooper – choosing Nebraska over Minnesota because it paid more. His second post was Gordon followed a year later by Chadron.
After 8 years, he decided to go to law school and moved his family to Lincoln, then returned after graduating with his law degree.
He first went into practice with the late Bevin Bump, then spent 21 years at Crites Schaefer with Marty Connealy and the late George Watson before being chosen for the bench when County Judge James Hansen retired in 2009.