McCurdy retires as judge, raps gavel for last time

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Yukon Progress, McCurdy, Yukon Review
Special Judge Gary McCurdy is congratulated on his retirement by one of his many admirers.

By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer

After serving more than three decades as a prosecutor and judge, Gary McCurdy has rapped his gavel for the last time.

Recently, he reminisced about his time as an integral part of Canadian County’s judicial system.

McCurdy spent 15 years as an assistant district attorney before being appointed in 2001 as a special judge by then-District Judge Edward C. Cunningham. McCurdy recently retired after 17 years on the bench.

“I really enjoyed this ride,” said McCurdy, who served Canadian County for 32 years including the last 30 at the courthouse in El Reno. “It’s been a great time. I was just lucky to be in that spot. I can’t think of a better place to work than Canadian County. It’s been a lot of fun.”

He shared high praise for members of Canadian County’s judicial community, from the judges and bailiffs to prosecutors and district court personnel at the judicial building.

“We hear this all the time from attorneys in other counties. They just love coming to Canadian County because people are so nice to them. They get treated fairly … by all the judges,” McCurdy said. “The attorneys from around the state really enjoy coming to Canadian County because the county has such a good reputation.

“You’re not going to get ‘home-towned’. You’re going to get a fair hearing. You’re not going to win every time, but that’s not the way it works.”

When asked what he’ll miss most after 32 years of district court service, he said “it will not be the divorces cases – I can assure you.”

“I already miss the people in the courthouse,” McCurdy said. ”After awhile, you get to know them so well. You spend at least eight hours a day with them every day.

“That’s the part I’m going to miss the most, seeing the people everyday and being around them.”

McCurdy’s longtime bailiff Stacy Horner has been both a co-worker and friend: “She is terrific”.

And he praised his fellow Canadian County judges, District Judge Paul Hesse, Associate District Judge Bob Hughey, Special Judge Jack McCurdy, and Special Judge Barbara Hatfield.

Before they both became judges, Jack McCurdy and Gary McCurdy argued many cases against each other with Jack serving as a public defender and Gary as an assistant district attorney.

‘Interesting … and Tragic’

As special judge, Gary McCurdy handled the victim’s protective order docket all 17 years he wore the black robe.

“This may sound a little crazy, but that was probably the most enjoyable aspect of my work as a special judge,” McCurdy said. “I really enjoyed hearing those cases. Some of them were not fun at all, but they were interesting to listen to.”

Judges who hear VPO cases typically deal directly with the victim and alleged abuser since attorneys usually aren’t involved.

“So you’re really getting the information on a real personal level from these people,” McCurdy said. “It’s kind of like small claims court, but for victim’s protective orders. You get to talk directly to folks coming in (and) most of them have no idea what goes on in a courtroom.”

Protective order cases are sometimes “sad, strange and tragic,” the retired judge added.

“Many times, when it’s clearly domestic abuse and that kind of issue, it’s not funny. It’s tragic.”

Oftentimes, VPO cases involve people at their worst.

“Some of it is ‘you really can’t make this stuff up’. … neighbors getting in big fights over mowing the yard,” McCurdy said. “Sometimes it can really be hilarious.”

McCurdy counts himself fortunate to have had quality personnel in his office along with the district attorney victim’s services staff.

He recalled when same sex marriage became legal in Oklahoma but hadn’t yet been permitted in a neighboring state to the south.

Two Texas women had been together as a couple for 39 years and had wanted to marry but couldn’t legally until the law was changed. So they came to Canadian County to be married in Judge McCurdy’s courtroom.

“This couple drove up from Texas because Texas was in a different appellate court,” McCurdy said. “Oklahoma’s statute had been ruled on but the Texas statute hadn’t been ruled on, and there hadn’t been a U.S. Supreme Court decision yet.

“So I got to do their wedding, which was kind of special.”

McCurdy enjoyed officiating “fun” matters like weddings and adoptions during his time on the bench, while handling his share of difficult cases like domestic abuse, VPOs and divorces involving couples with children.

Prosecuting
Murderers

When McCurdy became an assistant district attorney in 1986, Cathy Stocker was the district attorney and remained in that position the entire time McCurdy was in the DA’s office. McCurdy spent two years in Kingfisher County and came to Canadian County in ’88.

“That was before the real growth period hit in Canadian County,” McCurdy said. “It was steady, but it wasn’t like ‘crazy’ in the number of cases we had.

“I was in charge of the office in El Reno. We had just moved into the new courthouse. We had a great facility and we had a great staff. It was a really good period of time.”

The former prosecutor recalled some of the more interesting cases from his time in the district attorney’s Office.

“The Bob Kern murder case in Mustang was tragic and interesting,” McCurdy said of a 1995 shooting committed by Timothy Neal McAlister. “I tried several murder cases from El Reno and from Yukon.”

In the ‘90s, he led the prosecution of a women who was selling flower arrangements stolen off graves in the Yukon Cemetery.

McCurdy mentioned other “bad cases” he helped other prosecutors with, notably the murder of a Yukon girl in early 1990 by Floyd Allen Medlock.

McCurdy recalled fondly his time serving in the district attorney’s office.

“Getting to work with those people was really exciting,” he said. “We tried to hold ourselves to a high standard, and for the most part, we were able to do that.”

McCurdy and his wife are both enjoying retirement and plan to travel. They are headed to Wisconsin to watch a Green Bay Packers’ football game at Lambeau Field, an item high on McCurdy’s bucket list.

Now retired as a district court judge, McCurdy may teach a college criminal justice class next spring. But he has no “no desire” to practice law.

“I want to stay active in the bar association, but I really don’t foresee doing any private practice,” he said.

Canadian County judges, past and present, gather for a photograph during Gary McCurdy’s retirement reception. From left are Ken Dickerson, Gary McCurdy, Jack McCurdy, Barbara Hatfield, Robert Davis, Reta Strubhar, Gary Miller, Edward C. Cunningham, Paul Hesse and Bob Hughey.

‘Gentle, Fair,
Soft Spoken’

Retired Canadian County District Judge Gary Miller, who is now Yukon’s city attorney, said McCurdy always strived to be “very fair” to everybody while on the bench.

“Gary is a very steady individual,” said Miller, who worked with McCurdy for 24 years while McCurdy was a judge and prosecutor. “He is a gentle guy, soft spoken and easy to get along with, along with a great sense of humor.

“He has been a pleasure to work with and be around.”

McCurdy always was “willing to hear whatever was assigned to him,” Miller said.

“When there was a change in the law on same sex marriage, at a judges’ meeting Gary stepped up and volunteered to take care of all marriages,” he recalled.

“When Gary was an assistant district attorney before being appointed special judge, I always found him to be very reasonable. I’m going to miss him, and I wish him and his family the best.”

Judge Hesse will appoint a new special judge to fill McCurdy’s spot. The new judge will start serving in early 2019.