Changes coming in legal world

Robert Smith
From left are John Thomas Briggs, B. David Gambill, John Kane and Stuart Tate. Briggs will soon become Special Judge. Gambill is retiring from the bench. Kane will soon begin a new term as District Judge; and Tate will succeed Gambill as Associate District Judge.

Come the middle of January, B. David Gambill will have more time for coffee at convenience stores, for fishing, for his role as a pastor, for just about anything that spurs him on.

Judge Gambill, as he’s been known for almost three decades, is retiring from the judging business at age 62 and he figures it’s a pretty good time to go. He has served 13 years as special judge and another 16 as associate district judge.

“It’s a good gig. I enjoyed it. It’s a good time to leave office, when you still enjoy your job,” Gambill said, explaining he still likes getting up in the morning and doing the work of a judge. It’s just that there are other things in life, like spending time with family members, serving as pastor of Emmanuel Church and enjoying the outdoors.

Moreover, he figures Stuart Tate, John Kane and John Thomas Briggs will handle the judging just fine in his absence.

“I’m leaving it in good hands,” Gambill said, liberally distributing valedictory praise. “These are men of integrity. They’ve got the know-how, the experience and the integrity that the bench requires.”

What’s happening is this: Gambill is retiring from the post of associate district judge, and Special Judge Stuart Tate has been elected to take over that seat. Pawhuska lawyer John Thomas Briggs has been appointed by District Judge John Kane to become the new special judge after Tate succeeds Gambill.

While Kane and Tate, both of whom ran unopposed this year, will begin new terms Jan. 14, Briggs is scheduled to begin his work as special judge sometime in February.

The faces will be familiar to people who know the world of legal practice in Osage County, but some of them will be showing up in new spots. The other major change coming in early 2019 for the local court system is that Mike Fisher is to succeed Rex Duncan as district attorney.

Briggs, who graduated from Pawhuska High School in 1975, was a member of the 1973 Pawhuska state champion basketball team.

Gambill, who graduated PHS in 1974, said with some amusement that he wrestled instead of playing basketball “because I can’t throw a ball through a hoop.”

Gambill also recalled the rich web of friendships he was able to develop in his youth with Briggs and other young men from the Pawhuska area. Many of them were in Boy Scouts together.

What Briggs and Gambill and Kane, who is 56, have in common is they’re all the sons of Pawhuska lawyers. Tate, also 56, brings a different background to the mix. He is the son of a neurosurgeon. He was born in Oklahoma City and the family moved some because of his dad’s service in the U.S. Air Force.

While Briggs is new to the role of special judge, he has judicial experience as a municipal judge. He served in that capacity for the city of Pawhuska between 2006 and 2016.

His new duties as special judge will include all criminal arraignments, all misdemeanors, all payment and compliance dockets, and all traffic and wildlife cases. Additionally, he will be assigned half of the felonies from filing until plea or bindover; and he will be responsible for a third of all divorces and paternity actions and all protective orders, child support cases and small claims actions.

“Special judge years are like dog years,” Kane joked, observing it seemed like special judges did multiple years worth of work in a single year.

As he leaves the bench, part of Gambill’s legacy is earnest daily prayer to do the right thing as a judge and to correct errors where they occur.

“”If I didn’t, I’m sorry,” he said. “I tried to do my best.”