GOSHEN — When the bailiff says, “all rise” to the audience in Elkhart Superior Court No. 3, Judge George Biddlecome steps up to take a seat on the bench in his black robe.
In fewer than three weeks, Biddlecome will step down for the final time in his courtroom as the end of his six-year term approaches.
He decided it was time to make some changes and do some things he can’t do as a judge, including spending a month in Australia and New Zealand and taking more than just a few days of vacation at a time.
It will be a short retirement before he’s back in a courtroom, however. On Jan. 2, he will serve as senior judge in Circuit Court.
“But the day after I serve, my wife and I are taking a three-week vacation,” Biddlecome said. “I’ve never taken a three-week vacation since I’ve been a grown-up. I want more control over my time, but I don’t want to be completely divorced from the legal community. I’ve been involved since 1973 and I just don’t want to walk away from it. I like being a lawyer and I like being a judge, I just don’t want to do it all the time now because I want more control over my own schedule.”
Biddlecome said he as more than 50 days scheduled in 2015 to be a senior judge for Superior Court No. 3 and Circuit Court.
“I expect to add more,” he said. “I don’t just want to sit.”
Biddlecome graduated with honors from Wittenberg University in 1970 and earned his law degree in 1973 from Duke University. He practiced law in Elkhart for 22 years, serving as a deputy prosecutor for 20 of those years. He also served as a public defender and acted as managing director of Elkhart Legal Aid Service.
Biddlecome was assigned to Superior Court 3 as a deputy prosecutor and said he decided to run for the position of judge and make some changes in the courtroom.
“I actually took a pay cut become a judge,” he said. “I had a private practice and was earning more than I would make as a judge.”
He was first elected to his bench in 1996 and won re-election in 2002 and 2008.
“It’s been a joy to be a judge and in some cases, less joyful than others or joy-filled,” Biddlecome explained. “I never regretted my choice to run and my choice to serve this length of time. I accomplished what I wanted to and there are things I want to accomplish and if I were 18 years younger, I’d run again.”
The type of cases Biddlecome covers in Superior 3 include all the child victim cases except murder, half of the major drug crimes and all the confinement and kidnapping cases. He also covers civil cases, except small claims and juvenile. Superior 3 is also tasked with adoptions and mental health hearings, including involuntary 72-hour commitments.
“We have a system here in Elkhart County where there are seven judges and we take turns being a weekend judge,” he said. “On the weekend or the evenings, they (law enforcement) go to the on-call judge or during the day, they will go directly to the judge. The weekend judge also does search warrant applications.”
Being a judge
As he sits on the bench, Biddlecome said he’s always cautious to keep his own feelings and opinions in check.
“I am the judge and I have to divorce my emotions from my job,” he said. “I can’t let my emotions rule me or I’ll make mistakes and I won’t be able to give a defendant a fair trial and I’m obliged to do that. Somebody has to do this and I’m qualified to do it. I have to approach a case in a way that allows me to do my job. But you never forget some of the cases ... ever.”
Over the years some photographs have stayed with him.
“There are four or five (cases) that I will never forget the pictures, it’s just like it was yesterday,” Biddlecome said. “One of them was from my first murder trial in 1979 and I’ll never forget that picture.”
He’s seen much of the worst, but he finds satisfaction is making things right for the victims — and their families, Biddlecome said.
“I empathize with children who are abused because their whole life is changed,” he explained. “It’s bad enough if you are an adult and suffer abuse but at least there is some hope that they may work through it and get on with their lives, but children’s lives are changed forever,” he said.
In all cases, he does what he believes is right as a judge.
“Other people may disagree with me,” Biddlecome said, “but as long as I’m the judge I’m going to do what is right.”
Biddlecome was born and raised in Elkhart and graduated from Elkhart High School. He hadn’t planned on moving back to Elkhart after earning his law degree but his plans changed.
“It was the best choice I ever made,” he said. “I married a woman, Mona (Walker). I’ve known her since she was little kid. She’s a great wife and we’ll have been married 38 years in March.”
The couple have two children, a daughter who lives in California and a son who will live in Elkhart after he’s done with law school.
“I’m a lucky guy,” Biddlecome said. “I’ve had a fulfilling professional career. I have a great life and great kids. I didn’t get rich, but I live well. I don’t know what else you can ask for.”