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Hornaday retires...from the law

Jim Hornaday has decided to drop the other shoe and jump into the warm waters of retirement, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop running the usual tight ship at the regular meetings of the Homer City Council, where he sits at the helm as mayor--and has since October of 2004.

Many of Hornaday’s characteristics from his life as an attorney and judge on the Kenai Peninsula shine through as he presides over city business--that is, when he’s not out climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or volunteering to build houses.

But even before all of that, Hornaday was just another Richie Cunningham from Des Moines, Iowa--a guy with a title of student council president for the class of 1957.

Hailing from American Gothic country in Iowa, Hornaday reflected on how the painting could have been depicting his family exactly, with a "heavy emphasis on education, and not looking up from the plow until you’re at the end if the row," he said.

An avid young reader, Hornaday said he got interested in Alaska reading about Balto, the famous sled dog, and other great Alaska adventures. He came to the state in his junior year at Monmouth College and worked in a sawmill. Later, he spent a little quality time getting to know the wildlife as a summer game warden. "It was pretty off-the-cuff. I had a lot of fun, Hornaday said. "My parents thought I was nuts."

Beyond his Midwest youth, Hornaday remained dedicated to filling bigger shoes. His imprint on the law of the land is giant-sized, having brought law to the wilds of the Kenai Peninsula.

Before he teamed up with Kenai attorney Jamie Fischer, people on the peninsula had to either wait 90-day intervals for a visiting judge, or fly to Anchorage. Reminiscent of the days of frontier lawmen, Hornaday and Fischer were the only full-time lawyers on the Kenai Peninsula, and things were slightly different back in those days.

Hornaday said he recalls clients using land and fish as payment for legal services. "One thing I never accepted was an interest in a portable-potty business," he said. "But there were a lot of characters, and a lot of bear and moose cases." Today, there are some 50 lawyers in Kenai where Hornaday began, and his objective early on was to get at least one district judge to Homer. Not only was he successful at getting one, he became one.

Hornaday’s private law practice came to an end in 1976, when then-Gov. Jay Hammond appointed him as an Alaska District Court Judge. "I was known as ’Hornaday, the Hanging Judge from Homer,’" he said. "But I don’t think I was too strict

Hornaday was known for being tough on driving under the influence charges. There was even an attempt to run him out of town by lawsuit, which he countered with his own to stay. He obviously remained.

"I was probably the only district judge to file a lawsuit to stay around," Hornaday said. "But the state wasn’t cracking down (on driving under the influence cases). It was really kind of disappointing. Some of the other judges were afraid to stand up to these. So I out came right out and stated the first offenders get 15 days at least. I think it had a pretty good effect."

Hornaday is credited with starting the first work program in the state for offenders, where those jailed could spend time working on the Little League field outside during the summer months, rather than being cooped up inside. "Since I was working on the Little League field, we decided to incorporate them together," he said.

Hornaday said he is also proud of the work he and now Kachemak Bay Campus Director Carol Swartz teamed up for on victims of domestic violence. Swartz was the former head of the South Peninsula Women’s Services. According to Hornaday, it was the first place in the state where alleged victims of domestic violence could get legal counseling.

After 42 years of steady work, even starting the Homer Tribune, Hornaday said he’s not sure what’s going to happen next. However, he is certain there will be plenty more volunteer positions to fill. "They say men have more of a problem with retiring, but the mayor’s job has its demands, and I’ve got my kids and grandkids to spend time with," he said.

Hornaday said he is also considering getting back into writing, and will certainly be spending more time with his Brittany/Retriever mix named Star, as they attend obedience school together. Star is Hornaday’s new puppy, following the death of his famed black Labrador, Sparky. As for his years and experiences in Homer, Hornaday reflected on his time spent in the Greatland so far.

"This is an interesting little town -- and Alaska is beyond all expectations," he said.

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Written by Layton Ehmke, this article originally appeared in October in the Homer Tribune and was reprinted in the October - December 2006 Bar Rag with permission.

 

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