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Judge Kistler set to retire; expects to return as senior judge

Judge Kistler reflects fondly on his tenure

Judge Thomas Kistler reflects on his career during his retirement party Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.
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Judge Thomas Kistler reflects on his career during his retirement party Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

The well-wishers came from all aspects of the county — old friends, neighbors, attorneys, fellow judges and former police officers. All to wish the best of luck to outgoing Centre County Judge Thomas Kistler.

Kistler, the former president judge, announced his retirement at the beginning of this year, bringing 20 years on the bench to an end. In honor of his retirement, a reception was held Monday at the Centre County Courthouse, bringing together members of the public and Kistler’s colleagues to give their farewells.

Penn State adjunct professor and former public defender Richard Settgast recalled the time he worked as a law clerk for Kistler from 2008 to 2010, saying whenever Kistler was faced with a case, the No. 1 thing he always did was follow the law. As a clerk just coming out of law school, he said, it was something he always deeply respected.

“You couldn’t ask for a better judge to clerk under,” he said.

President Judge Pamela Ruest outlined Kistler’s career in her remarks, starting with his election in 1997 and subsequent retention in 2007. Highlights of his career included the creation of the county Child Access Center, a nomination to the state Supreme Court and his continued involvement in the community.

His “wackiest” involvement, she noted, was his repeated participation in the polar bear plunge.

“He’s been an exceptional president judge,” Ruest said, “and he’ll be a very hard act to follow.”

Kistler said near the beginning of the reception that it was a great honor to have some many people stop and pay their respects.

“I love what I do and I’m not really looking forward to being away from it,” he said, “but I’m looking forward to having more time to share chasing my kids ... and doing some things that have been on my list.”

Kistler said his last day will be Dec. 29, after which he has to take a year off before he can step up as a senior judge. The reason for the down time, he said, has to do with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and the IRS.

An individual has to meet “the rule of 80” to become a senior judge, he said — a judge’s age plus his or her years of service. At 60, with 20 years of service, Kistler meets this requirement.

However, he said, an IRS rule prevents an employee from drawing pension from a former employer while also providing a service to the former employer before the age of 62.

Kistler said he would still be around until he can take up the position of senior judge in 2019, consulting with incoming county Judge Brian Marshall to bring him up to speed on the ongoing cases in the courthouse.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to mention some of the people that really deserve thanks for allowing me to do this job,” he said, “and obviously the voters of Centre County placed their trust in me for 20 years, and I hope each day I have earned that trust.”

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

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