By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
Idaho Supreme Court Justice John R. Stegner announced Tuesday he will retire from judicial service on Oct. 31, and eventually return to private practice as an attorney.
In a letter to Gov. Brad Little on Monday, Justice Stegner called his retirement a “bittersweet decision” prompted by financial considerations and disparities in pay between judges and many attorneys.
“The job requires extraordinary hours to do it well,” Stegner wrote. “In sum, the state is asking judges to do too much for too little.”
The justices and other judges in Idaho did not receive a raise last year after the Idaho Legislature failed to pass a bill on the subject.
Stegner has served Idaho as a judge and justice since 1997, when Gov. Phil Batt appointed him to the district court in Latah County. Gov. Butch Otter appointed him to the Idaho Supreme Court in 2018.
“Born in Grangeville, the justice grew up in a family attuned to civics and at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court decided issues such as the principle of one person, one vote. Through following such matters, he developed an interest in the importance of the courts, though he once considered a career in education. He attended law school at the University of Idaho and clerked for a federal judge in Boise before developing a civil practice at a legal firm in Lewiston,” according to a court news release.
“It was always a goal of mine to be on the bench,” Stegner said.
As he leaves the bench, according to the news release, Stegner is concerned by American society questioning the legitimacy of the courts in a way he has never seen. He compared the U.S. system to countries whose court systems don’t have the political independence to enforce public rights.
“If we lose the independence of the judiciary, it’s a loss we will never be able to overcome,” he said.
Stegner complemented his “wonderful, diligent, hardworking” colleagues on the Supreme Court and shared lessons learned during his career: Don’t stoop to match others’ contentious behavior, and when entering the courtroom, check your ego at the door.
“Justice Stegner brings a principled, deliberate approach to both the appeals we resolve and his vision of what Idaho’s courts should be,” Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan said in the news release. “His drive to better ourselves and our work has improved justice for Idahoans. We wish him the best as he prepares for retirement.”
Stegner intends to serve in retirement as a senior justice until any pending appellate cases are resolved. He said he also hopes to work in mediation, resolving disputes before they reach trial.
Little will appoint a justice to replace Stegner from a list of applicants provided by the Idaho Judicial Council. The new justice will serve the rest of Stegner’s term, which ends in January 2027. A nonpartisan election for the next six-year term on the court will be held in May 2026.