Northeast Ohio winters with family or collecting a paycheck while living year-round in tropical sunshine on a Western Pacific island?
It’s not a real either-or choice for most people — outside of their daydreams.
For retired Wayne County Municipal Court Judge Bill Rickett, however, the question was real. And after weighing all the evidence, well, he made the most judicious decision.
Rickett turned down a position that would have been the highest honor of his 26-year legal career: associate justice on the Supreme Court of the Republic of Palau.
Palau’s high court, like its government, is patterned after the systems found in the United States. Rickett said he “stumbled on the job opening” in late September on an Internet link to the Republic of Palau website.
After quickly putting together and submitting his resume, an application letter and several required writing samples, Rickett had a phone interview with Palau’s chief justice and his nominating committee.
He got an unexpected phone call at his home in Wooster on a Friday morning in late November. It was from, first, the deputy attorney general of Palau, followed soon by the nation’s president, Johnson Toribiong, in his island office.
“The president, as a kind of funny aside, said: ‘I hope I’m not interrupting anything important. Do you have a few minutes to talk to me?’ I was in the middle of doing some chores around the house,” Rickett said, “but I was happy to put those down.”
The surprising news was that he was among seven finalists, one of which was a Palau islander, for the Supreme Court post.
Days later, the presidential decision — Senate confirmation is not required — came in a personal email to Rickett.
It then was formally announced in a Dec. 7 news release for the benefit of Palau’s 21,000 citizens and media.
“To be nominated and appointed to the highest court in any country has to be the single greatest honor any lawyer could ever receive, and that was certainly the case with Palau,” Rickett said.
But after a weekend of discussing the opportunity with his wife, Kristy, who is retiring soon after 30 years as a state environmental specialist, Rickett said they decided to decline the appointment.
Living in Ohio near their son and daughter and five grandchildren simply was too appealing to give up, even for a dream job on an island, Rickett said.
His son, Mike Rickett, 34, works in the criminal division of the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office and lives with his wife and three daughters in Cuyahoga Falls.
Rickett’s daughter, Kelly, a teacher, and her husband live nearby in Wayne County with their son and daughter.
“Most people, at least the people we know, aren’t blessed like that, to have their children and grandchildren within just a short drive away, so we’re very thankful for that,” Rickett said. “In the end, that was the deciding factor.”
Rickett, 60, is a law school graduate of the University of Akron and has a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Ohio State.
He was first appointed to the Wayne County bench in 2008, subsequently winning election to a full term, but decided it was time to retire early this year.
Rickett’s service on the bench was prominently noted in the official Palau Supreme Court news release, which also pointed to his work as assistant dean, professor of clinical law, mock trial team director and Civil Litigation Clinic director of the UA Law School.
“Apparently in this case, they equated age with wisdom,” Rickett said. “As I read some material about the traditions and cultures of some of the South Pacific islands, I think that worked in my favor, having all that experience in private practice and teaching.”
One of his UA colleagues, law professor J. Dean Carro, said Rickett’s broad range of legal experience was ideal for such a position.
“I think what’s important is for a judge to be intelligent. Obviously, he’s that. I think it’s important for a judge to have integrity, and he’s got that, and for the judge to be independent,” Carro said.
“But overarchingly, you want a judge who’s had varied experiences so the judge can fully appreciate the diversity of cases coming before him.”
Rickett notes that Palau, with its captivating natural beauty, was the site of the 2005 reality TV show Survivor Palau. He said he and his wife have never been there, but definitely would like to visit someday during their retirement travels.
“I think we made the right decision,” Rickett said, “but next month when it’s zero degrees and there’s a foot of snow on the driveway, I might say: ‘My gosh, we could be sitting under a palm tree right now on the beach.’ ’’
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.