After 28 years on the bench, Gila County Superior Court Judge Robert Duber II has seen it all. From attorneys impeaching witnesses on the stand, to deadbeat parents, child molesters and sometimes even, the grandchildren of people he once prosecuted.
At a recent Democratic meeting, Duber announced he is running for re-election as district II judge, a position he says has afforded him a meaningful life he just isn’t ready to give up yet.
Payson Town Attorney Tim Wright has also announced he is running for the seat.
Judge races usually go unchallenged and Wright had hoped Duber would retire. But Duber likes working.
“I don’t know what else I would do. I play golf, but I do not play golf well enough to get engaged,” Duber said, laughing off retirement.
Duber’s law career stretches back to 1976, shortly after he graduated from Arizona State University and opened a private practice. After five years, he was the Gila County attorney and four years later, he went back into private practice. By 1987, Duber took his place on the bench as one of Gila County’s superior court judges and he hasn’t left.
At the recent meeting, Duber said he thought about relating the story of his career, but instead discussed positive psychology “the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play,” according to University of Pennsylvania website where Martin Seligman is the director of the center and a professor of psychology.
Seligman, he said, had a theory of what made people happy and it is one that aligns with his beliefs.
Seligman said there are three types of lives: the pleasant, engaged and meaningful.
Duber related that being a judge has afforded him all three.
First, the pleasant life involves things that make us feel good, like ice cream and money. Duber said as a judge he makes a good living.
But this type of happiness is fleeting. The first bite of ice cream tastes like heaven, by the end of the gallon, it is not so good.
For him, money was never the focus. He has lived in the same house in Globe, just a short walk from the courthouse, for years, one he shared with his wife and two children.
The second level of happiness is the engaged life, so interesting that it commands your full attention. “For me it is the work that I do,” Duber said, referring to both his work as a lawyer and then a judge.
“When I practiced law and tried cases, I was that person who was engaged. I focused. When I was examining a witness, I focused on that witness. It was as if there was nothing around me but that person,” he said. “That was flow for me.”
He is the same now as a judge.
“When I am a judge that is the way I feel. When I do a trial, and I have worked in front of a lot of judges, and some of them would sign papers while the trial is going on. When I try a case I am engaged, I am in flow, that is where I am at. I am looking and listening, thinking, ‘Where is the objection in this case?’”
“For me, being engaged is practicing law or being a judge and I am not willing to give that up.”
On Wright, Duber said he lacks that engagement. Duber worked with Wright in the late 1990s in the county attorney’s office.
“I didn’t get that impression that he had engagement or flow when he practiced and frankly I can’t imagine that he would have flow or engagement in superior court,” he said. “I say that because it has been at least 10 years since he has been in front of the superior court. It is just not something that I think engages him. But it may and you can certainly come to love this job.”
The final tier of happiness is the meaningful life. Duber described this as doing something that benefits others and in some measure benefits mankind.
Duber recalled one probationer working his way through drug court. Required to check in with Duber every two weeks, the man relayed his efforts to stay clean and sober.
A few days later, a probation officer told Duber they had met with the man shortly after he left drug court. The defendant told the probation officer Duber had made his day. Asked what he had done, the man replied that Duber had told him he was doing good and to keep it up. The man said it was the first time a male authority figure had said something nice to him.
“Imagine that is the highlight of his life. No one ever spoke to him like that,” Duber said. “One of the things I do with people that are in drug court is deal with their problems and try to give them a different view of life, give them some sense of what is going on.”
While this man succeeded, others don’t despite the court’s best efforts. Often, people act up just before graduating from drug court because they are scared to go back to their everyday life where they lack support and structure.
“If you can’t steel yourself up to the failures, the ones you know could make it but something happened and they couldn’t, it is not that easy to live with if you can’t steel yourself up,” he said. “But then you have to worry about getting too tough.”
Finding the balance between being strict and offering a helping hand is something Duber deals with daily. His mother, a CPS worker, once told him though that you can’t save all the puppies.
Duber says if you really want to know what he thinks, visit www.judgeduber.com. And for information on happiness research, visit www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu.