Retired Whitley Circuit Judge Jerry Winchester was an old-fashioned country lawyer and judge, who knew that sometimes the best tools for addressing a situation were with humor and common sense.
Back when circuit court was still in the old courthouse, there was a homicide trial many moons ago that had gone into its second day on a Wednesday.
The News Journal had a newspaper rack in the lobby of the courthouse with a story about the trial on the front page that morning. Of course, some defense lawyers were objecting to jurors seeing the headline of the paper as they left and entered the courthouse.
After reading the headline aloud in the courtroom, which was something along the lines of “Smith trial starts Tuesday,” Winchester simply noted about the jury, “I hope they know that by now.”
I recall another story that Judge Winchester told me one time about his days as an FBI agent. His bosses had sent him to West Virginia to investigate the source of a rumor. They hadn’t given him much to work with besides the rumor and instructions to find out where it came from.
What’s an investigator supposed to do with so little to work with? His solution was to start asking people if they had heard the rumor, and who they had heard it from. Then he asked the person that they heard it from, who they had heard it from and so forth, until he uncovered the source of the rumor.
I always thought that was pretty good thinking.
Winchester passed away Saturday following a lengthy bout with health problems. He was a good man, who will be sorely missed.
Winchester dedicated much of his adult life to public service. First he worked as a teacher, then as an FBI agent. He also served as commonwealth’s attorney for more than 12 years before being appointed as circuit judge, a job that he held for 20 years.
He theoretically retired in 2007 only to be appointed as a special senior judge for Whitley and McCreary counties until a new judge was elected a few months later to fill out the remainder of his term in office.
Dan Ballou was elected to replace him, but Ballou soon got called up for active military duty leaving Judge Winchester to once again serve as circuit judge for a while longer until he really retired.
Judge Winchester didn’t really seem to mind though. One of his favorite things to do was talk and tell stories, which were pretty interesting most of the time. If he was in a good mood, you could generally count on court lasting well into the afternoon most days.
While “judge” was the title that most people knew him by, Winchester’s favorite titles were husband, father and grandpa. He especially enjoyed that last one with grandson, J.P., and granddaughter, Shelby.
Family was very important to Judge Winchester.
I remember Judge Winchester taking great pride when he swore his son, Paul Winchester, into office shortly after he was appointed to the circuit bench to replace Paul Braden, who had passed away a few years ago.
It was a simple ceremony held in Jerry Winchester’s living room with a few friends and family members in attendance.
Today, portraits of all the circuit judges in Whitley County history now adorn the walls of the Whitley Circuit Courtroom.
Many probably don’t realize that Jerry Winchester’s wife, Nell, spearheaded the project. She had the judge and others drive her to the far corners of the region looking for pictures for the project.
When the photos were first hung in the circuit courtroom at the old courthouse, it was Judge Winchester standing on the ladder hammering the nails into the walls under Nell’s supervision of course.
Mind you that Nell was probably the only one, who could get away with telling Judge Winchester what to do in his courtroom.
Although I didn’t see him too often since he “really” retired, Judge Jerry Winchester is someone, who I will miss still the same. He was one of those people, who made the world a better place while he was in it.