‘A bittersweet decision’: Idaho Supreme Court Justice announces retirement plans

Stegner has served as a judge and justice since 1997, when Gov. Phil Batt appointed him to district court in Latah County

By: - May 2, 2023 1:53 pm
Members of the Idaho Supreme Court and the Idaho Court of Appeals

Citing financial considerations and disparities in pay between judges and private attorneys, Justice John R. Stegner said he plans to retire from judicial service Oct. 31, 2023.

Idaho Supreme Court Justice John R. Stegner is retiring from judicial service to work at a private practice as an attorney, according to a press release from the Idaho Judicial Branch. 

In a resignation letter to Gov. Brad Little Monday, Stegner said he will retire as a Supreme Court Associate Justice Oct. 31.

“This has been a bittersweet decision,” he said in the letter. “It has been the privilege of my professional career to have been a jurist in Idaho for more than the past quarter century.”

Justice John R. Stegner was appointed by Gov. Butch Otter to the Idaho Supreme Court in 2018.
(Courtesy of Idaho Supreme Court)

Stegner cited financial considerations and disparities in pay between judges and private attorneys as the reason behind his decision. 

“The job requires extraordinary hours to do it well,” Stegner said. “In sum, the state is asking judges to do too much for too little.”

Longtime judge, justice reflects on career

Born in Grangeville, Stegner grew up in a family attuned to civics and watched the U.S. Supreme Court decide issues related to the principle of one person, one vote. 

Even though he considered a career in education, Stegner’s interest in the judicial system led him to attend law school at the University of Idaho and clerk for a federal judge in Boise before developing a civil practice at a legal firm in Lewiston.

“It was always a goal of mine to be on the bench,” Stegner said in the press release.

Appointed by late Gov. Phil Batt in 1997, Stegner served as a judge in the district court bench in Latah County. He was appointed by Gov. Butch Otter to the Idaho Supreme Court in 2018.

Stegner pursued his interest in education by serving as the chair to the Idaho Supreme Court Education Committee, where he helped train several judges and collaborated on education projects across the courts. 

During his time as a district judge, Stegner became heavily involved with treatment courts, establishing two in Latah County. In an interview last year, he said presiding over treatment courts was the “most gratifying work” he has done as a judge. 

According to the press release, Stegner once performed a wedding for two treatment court graduates, when the parents thanked him for supporting their children during their recovery.

“Nobody wants to be sued,” he said in the release. “Nobody wants to sue. But our court system enables us to resolve those disputes successfully.”

Preparing for retirement, reflecting on concerns about society

As he prepares to leave the bench, Stegner said he is concerned about society questioning the legitimacy of the U.S. courts in a way he has never seen. According to the press release, he compared the U.S. system to countries whose court systems do not have the 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 in the release.

Stegner intends to serve as a senior justice in retirement until any pending appellate cases are resolved. He said he also hopes to work in mediation, resolving disputes before they reach trial. 

“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 press release. “His drive to better ourselves and our work has improved justice for Idahoans. We wish him the best as he prepares for retirement.

Under state law, Gov. Little must 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 until Jan. 2027. A nonpartisan election for the next six-year term will be held in May 2026.


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Mia Maldonado
Mia Maldonado

Mia Maldonado joined the Idaho Capital Sun after working as a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman covering stories related to crime, education, growth and politics. She previously interned at the Idaho Capital Sun through the Voces Internship of Idaho, an equity-driven program for young Latinos to work in Idaho news. Born and raised in Coeur d'Alene, Mia moved to the Treasure Valley for college where she graduated from the College of Idaho with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and international political economy.