Kase on case for 43 years

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Vacations aside, it’s been a long time since Edmund “Ted” Kase III did not have to go down to the courthouse on Monday morning — 43 years to be exact.

John Larson - El Defensor Chieftain: Retired District Court judge Edmund “Ted” Kase III relaxes at home, making plans to go fishing in Canada for a couple of weeks, but more importantly spending more time with his grandchildren.

Kase finished up his last case as Seventh District Court Judge on July 18 with a decision to revoke parental rights in a child negligence case. It was “one of those cases that wasn’t too happy. Those are tough,” he said in an interview at his home in Socorro Monday morning.

Kase said he plans to enjoy being with his children and his grandchildren.

“And to go fishing,” he added.

Kase was appointed judge to the Seventh Judicial District by Gov. Bruce King in July of 1971, replacing Garnett Burks Sr. who retired for health reasons.

In the beginning, he was the only judge in the district, which covers Socorro, Catron, Torrance and Sierra counties, one sixth of New Mexico.

“At that time we had only 600 cases a year. It wasn’t until 1977 that a second judgeship was created. We got the third judge in 1989,” Kase said. “Now, we have as many as 2,500 cases for all three judges. It has been split up between myself, Judge Reynolds and Judge Sweazea.”

His career in the legal profession began in the 1950s.

After graduating from Princeton, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving for two years as a German translator.

“It was in August when we mustered out at Fort Dix. My mother was living in Princeton, New Jersey, at the time,” he said. “She said why don’t you take the (law school) exam. I took it two weeks later.”

Kase passed and was accepted into three law schools. He chose the University of Pennsylvania Law School and commuted from Princeton to Philadelphia every day on the train. He received his juris doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1959.

He took the Colorado Bar exam, with hopes of living in Colorado. While waiting for the results, he decide to visit his father who was living in Socorro and working at New Mexico Tech publishing mining reports.

“After a couple of weeks, he said, ‘Ted, why don’t you do something constructive. Why don’t you go down and meet the local judge.’ My goal was to live in Colorado, but I said ‘OK,’” Kase said. “The judge told me, ‘You’re on vacation, why don’t you take the bar exam in New Mexico?’”

“To make a long story short, I took it, had it graded the next day and passed it,” he said. “Two months later I was notified I passed the bar in Colorado. I never left New Mexico.”

By 1961, he had hung his shingle as a practicing lawyer in Socorro. He also served as assistant district attorney from 1965-1968.

“For a while there, you could be an assistant district attorney and also practice law. It was a crazy arrangement,” Kase said. “So while I was assistant D.A., I could also have a private practice. I had an office in the court house, but I was also allowed to practice law.”

Since he took office as District judge 43 years ago, Kase has presided over cases too numerous to remember, but the ones he remembers with fondness are adoptions and weddings.

“Those are happy occasions,” Kase said. “During adoption proceedings, there may be balloons, and sometimes we’d put together a little present for the adoptee if they’re small children. And if the child is old enough to make an X to sign the adoption paper, we let the child do that.”

He said another favorite duty was to officiate weddings, and on several occasions the weddings took him out of the courthouse.

“I have performed weddings in all sorts of crazy places,” Kase said. “One wedding was about a quarter-mile back inside a mine at Kelly.

“They put the bride in an ore cart and wheeled her in there,” he said. “We all met them at the end of the line. There were Tech students from the geology department, and they were wearing miners lamps. It was a little chilly back there because of the constant temperature. ”

He said he couldn’t count how many weddings he has performed, but most were at the courthouse.

“The last one we had, I asked them if they had any rings to exchange, and they didn’t, so we fashioned two rings out of paper clips,” Kase said. “Got the job done that way.”

Other weddings have been in Water Canyon, the University of New Mexico Chapel and “a very nice one in September at Sandia Resort for the daughter of an old friend of his.”

Kase has been known over the years for demanding solemnity in court, although he said sometimes a lawyer would break the decorum.

“One trial involved two calves that were stolen, and they had a very prominent defense attorney who called his client, the defendant, as his last witness,” he said. “And the last question was, ‘did you steal those two calves?’ The defendant says ‘yes sir.’”

“The defense attorney didn’t expect him to confess, and shouted, ‘You what? Did you hear me?’”

“Then the man said, ‘oh, no, no,no!’ The poor fellow, he was an old timer. Said he didn’t hear the question right.”

He was convicted.

“In the early years, smoking was not only permitted in the court house, but in the jury room,” Kase said. “Small room, smoke filled. So one day, the jury went up to about six o’clock and was asked, ‘do you want your dinner brought into you, or do you want to go out to dinner, take a recess?’ They sent back a message: ‘Please send us in a pack of Pall Malls, one pack of Camels, one pack of Lucky Strikes and box of matches.’”

Kase said the law stipulates that in a “hung jury” situation, the trial is categorized as a mistrial, and the case is retried.

“One time we had a murder trial. The fifth day of the trial they settled the case, which is unusual,” he said. “There was a plea agreement after the jury had been deliberating for a while, so we excused the jury. The following day, on Saturday, the janitor was working around the office and said, ‘Judge, there’s some stuff you’d like to see. I found this in the bottom of waste paper basket in the jury room.’

“And what it was, they had sugar cubes for the coffee and one of the jurors had wrapped sugar cubes in aluminum foil, and on one side there was one hole and on the other side there were two holes. They had made dice,” he said. “We wondered, if it had come down to final deliberation, what would they have done? Rolled the dice?”

Kase said he had never had to sequester a jury.

“That’s an expensive proposition,” he said. “But they used to sequester juries more often. This was back more than 50 years ago, sequestering them in the Valverde.”

Kase said he was told that one time a juror was caught trying to haul up a bucket with beer outside a third floor window.

One unusual situation he remembered arose in Torrance county in 1978, concerning a Moriarty City Council election. “Every so often in these small counties we have a tie vote,” Kase said.

He said an electrician and a farmer were running for the same city council seat.

“The vote ended in a tie, 99 to 99,” he said. “Rather than the county have to bear the expense of a run-off election, they both agreed to a hand of five-card stud poker. Best hand wins.”

Kase said he shuffled the cards and dealt the hands.

“The winner won with a pair of nines, beating the other’s king high,” he said.

The story was picked up by Time Magazine.