Judge D. Michael Stine, who has been an associate judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County for more than 20 years, is retiring with one year remaining in his 10-year term.

"After a great deal of consideration and some alignment of the stars, I have decided to resign my commission and retire at the close of business on Jan. 3, 2011," he announced at the courthouse in Pottsville Wednesday. Stine's term expires the first Monday of January 2012. He plans to seek an appointment to serve as a senior judge.

When Stine leaves the bench his seat will probably remain vacant until a new judge is elected in next year's election. Stine could have run next year on a retention ballot, but would have been only able to serve five of his 10-year term because it is mandatory for a judge to step down when he reaches the age of 70.

Normally political parties submit names of attorneys to the governor to fill unexpired terms. But times have changed. The president judge of the state Supreme Court has requested the governor not fill short-term vacancies as a cost-saving venture. Gov. Ed Rendell has complied with the court's wishes. It will be the decision of the new governor who takes office next January if he chooses to honor the Supreme Court judge's request or to appoint someone. The appointment would be for one year.

The current district attorney and former district attorney have expressed interest in succeeding Stine on the county bench. District Attorney James P. Goodman and former DA Cal Shields have indicated interest. There could be others and this will be the first time since the 1990s for election of a judge to the county bench.

In discussing his pending retirement, Stine commented, "There is little question that my decision is bittersweet. After more than 20 years on the Schuylkill County bench I have come to realize that I am truly a blessed person. Few people are given the opportunity to be involved in such a stimulating, challenging and energetic career field. Few people are given the opportunity to work with the caliber of professionals that I have worked with in the legal profession and on the Schuylkill County Bench.

"All of the judges I have worked with have proven to be dedicated, considerate and intelligent jurists, as well as great colleagues and friends. Few people are given the opportunity to work with such an array of wonderful and good people within the court system and the entire system of county government. Few people are given the opportunity to serve people as great as the people of Schuylkill County my constituents. And few people are fortunate enough to have received the tremendous support that I have received from friends, relatives and my family throughout my career.

"My work within the legal profession both as a lawyer and jurist has been a labor of love and I remain both a student and servant of the law. I plan to seek status as a Senior Judge and hopefully be in a position to continue to assist and support the members of the Schuylkill County Bench, while at the same time exploring other personal interests."

Stine was appointed to the county bench in 1990 to fill the unexpired term of the late Judge John E. Lavelle. He then ran for a full year term in 1991 and served two terms from 1992. Before becoming a judge he served as magisterial district judge in his hometown of Tamaqua, from 1978 through 1985, resigning to take a position as assistant district attorney.

President Judge William E. Baldwin paid tribute to his colleague, calling him an outstanding judge who spent long hours on research and study and was always prepared in court and will be greatly missed.

His sentiments were concurred by the other four associate judges including Cyrus Palmer Dolbin, who added, "we are losing one of the finest judges in the county and I will be losing a true friend." Judge Jacquelyn Russell, added, "We will greatly miss him as he was a conscientious and hard-working jurist." Judges John E. Domalakes and Charles M. Miller concurred.