When Council Grove attorney Michael Powers went looking for a new professional challenge in 1991, an opening for district judge in Marion County appeared to offer what he wanted.
“I had a young family and I thought Marion County was going to be a really good place to raise them,” Powers said. “I thought it was something I might be good at and I wanted to try. If I got it, I would be able to remain in a similar community to Council Grove.”
It could be considered his first judicial decision, and it proved to be a good one, as next month Powers will mark a quarter-century of service as Eighth Judicial District judge in Marion.
“Wow, when you put it like that, it sounds like a long time,” Powers said.
Recently reappointed to another term as district chief judge, Powers said the transition from attorney to judge wasn’t as easy as he anticipated.
“It was like a football player who had played in many games being told ‘You’re going to be the official,’” he said. “This was very different than what I thought it would be.”
Powers said he’s seen changes both positive and disturbing across his years on the bench.
Technology has changed many aspects of how the court does business, he said.
“If electricity goes down, we can’t hold court any longer,” he quipped, acknowledging that a backup generator would keep things going for awhile.
Computers have replaced both huge reel-to-reel tape recorders once used to record sessions and voluminous stacks of case files Powers once had to sift through.
“We did that up until several years ago until we went strictly computer,” he said. “There are still courts in the state that are maintaining complete paper files.”
It’s another transition that hasn’t been entirely easy.
“I’m of an age where I still like holding a piece of paper, looking at it, making doodles in the margins,” Powers said.
As the district’s chief administrator, Powers has had some leeway to push for greater incorporation of technology, even though state funding has lagged in that area.
While the state converted to an electronic recordkeeping system, it didn’t include a way for judges to use the system in the courtroom, something Powers likened to having a new car without a steering wheel.
Powers got around that shortcoming by working with colleagues in Sedgwick County to obtain an in-house system their programmers had developed.
It’s in the cases that come before the court where Powers has encountered a disturbing trend.
“I’ve been rather astounded by the explosion of sex crimes against children,” he said. “If you look at statistics, there are certain areas of the state which have seemingly high numbers of these cases.
“We appear to be in one. I don’t know what that means. I have had more Jessica’s Law cases than those in Geary County.”
Powers said a desire to help guides his courtroom practice.
“I like people,” he said. “I like to feel like I can help people resolve a dispute in a way that’s most beneficial for both of them. They may not feel like that’s what happened, but I like to think I have an open mind and can help settle disputes in a way that’s constructive.”
Overall, Powers’ decision 25 years ago has worked out as well as he could have expected, personally as well as professionally.
“Judy and I sweated bullets in making the decision to pursue the position here,” he said. “We have zero regrets. It has been wonderful. Our children thrived. The community, in fact the county, was so welcoming to us that we were both just astounded with that. I don’t know if people realize how good they have it here — it’s just a wonderful area.”
Powers is known outside the courtroom for his sports broadcasting on MCTV, which he’s being doing since 1994, and as a volunteer with several civic organizations, including Marion Advancement Campaign. While retirement isn’t in his plans any time soon, Powers said he looks forward to a day when he can get more involved in “local stuff.”