Veteran Mt. Pleasant District Judge Roger Eckels retires
The Pennsylvania Crime Codes manual, vehicle law handbook, all of the legal newsletter updates, criminal and civil complaints had been cleared Friday morning from atop the desk of longtime Mt. Pleasant District Judge Roger Eckels. Hanging in front of the desk was a banner reading “Happy Retirement.”
An unopened bottle of champagne sat on a nearby cabinet to celebrate sometime after he completed a last day of scheduled hearings.
“Someone told me awhile ago that when it was time to retire you’d know it. I’ve been thinking about this awhile and decided that time has come,” Eckels said.
Eckels, 64, said he’s not sure what he’s going to do next, “but I’m keeping all of my options open.”
“After today, I’m just going to sit back and chill out. I plan on spending time with my wife, Luannn, two children and three grandchildren,” he said.
Eckels served as district judge for 29 years, having first been appointed to fill a vacancy in 1990 by the late Gov. Robert Casey. He was unanimously confirmed by the state Senate, then re-elected five times without opposition.
A Mt. Pleasant native, Eckels graduated from Mt. Pleasant Area High School in 1972. Seven Springs Mountain Resort hired him as a police patrolman in 1974. Two years later, he was hired as a patrolman by Mt. Pleasant Borough.
In 1978, he became a detective in the Westmoreland County District Attorney’s Office. He had worked many undercover drug investigations before he became a district judge.
He succeeded longtime magistrate Margaret Tlumac.
“I’ll tell you what, I tried cases against Roger when he worked undercover with the district attorney’s office, and I’ve represented many clients before him here, and I can honestly say he’s always been the consummate professional no matter what the circumstance,” defense attorney Duke George of New Kensington said. “He was always compassionate, and he’s certainly going to be missed.”
Eckels said the office has undergone many changes since he was first appointed.
“Mostly, it’s been the advances in technology that really help with the flow of all of the cases. I’ve really enjoyed coming to work and being involved in the community,” Eckels said.
Over the years, Eckels has been a longtime advocate of implementing substance abuse educational programs throughout all levels of school in an attempt to stop the increase of drug use.
“That’s been the most troubling thing about this job over the years, is the disturbing caseloads we’ve reached regarding the abuse of opioids and heroin throughout the community. Besides enforcement, we have to continue educating our children to all the dangers affiliated with drug abuse,” he said.
“It’s just one chapter in my life coming to a close, and maybe there will be another one opening sometime,” Eckels said.
Eckels reiterated that he is eager to spend more time with his three grandchildren, Liam, 11, who lives in Maine, and Raegan, 7, and Grady, 9 months, who live in Acme.
Eckels’ term is not slated to expire until 2022. County special courts administrator Don Heagy said the county intends to cover the office with senior magistrates for the completion of the term.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .