Jacobson: ‘It’s not easy to walk away from a job you love’
DIXON – Judge Ronald M. Jacobson found himself sitting quietly in his courtroom during the last week letting all the memories rise.
Within his bench are reminders of the years including a pamphlet of a Lee County man who successfully completed the drug court program, a letter thanking him for turning a life around into something positive, and a message written by a predecessor that read “one moment of silence is worth an hour of explanation.”
It was a strange feeling for the 61-year-old 15th Judicial Circuit Court resident judge that Friday will be the last day in the role and responsibility he’s known for more than a dozen years.
“It’s not easy to walk away from a job you love and think you do well,” he said.
But it’s the right time and the right opportunity to hang up his robe, to spend more time with his two young grandchildren in Georgia, to go skiing in Utah, and to find his next role that will allow him to do more good in the community.
Jacobson’s tenure in law started in 1982, but his career in the field wasn’t set in stone; he also obtained his real estate broker license the same year. He came to Lee County in 1988 as an assistant state’s attorney and became a judge in 2006.
One of the most gratifying aspects of the job has been to bring experience, knowledge and perspective to help people, especially through alternative courts geared toward treatment rather than jail time.
There’s a moment that sticks with him, and it wasn’t in a courtroom.
It was in PetSmart in Sterling some years back when a woman, after learning his name, told him “you gave me my son back” through an alternative court program.
There have always been grimy parts of the job, having to look at evidence of brutal acts as others turn their heads – a case that came to mind was in 2014 when Rockford man Terence Doddy dragged 44-year-old Sterling native Tonya Bargman into a rest stop bathroom off of Interstate 39 near Paw Paw and murdered her.
“I know how important it is to protect the community against dangerous people, and that’s part of the job,” he said.
The good moments outweigh the bad as well as the stress that “spikes through the roof where you can’t see the top” by a sizable margin, though.
“For every stressful and difficult moment on the bench, there were a dozen where I felt good helping people,” he said.
One of his fondest moments came from a collision of his roles as judge and father when he officiated his daughter Hannah’s wedding.
There’s no shortage of powerful moments he’s known in Lee County during the last 3 decades.
Another was during a sentencing hearing for someone convicted of criminal sexual abuse that led to a thought he always kept in mind.
“I realized that there was nobody in this entire world that could make that decision for me,” Jacobson said.
There was also the time when an inmate appearing via video arraignment spewed a collection of profanities at him, and he called him into the courtroom to give him what for. A fight then broke out with the bailiffs and the inmate, who later calmly apologized.
“As a judge, strength doesn’t mean telling somebody to do something right this minute,” he said.
His judgeship recently came round into a circle. His first act walking through the courtroom door involved a probate case where he joked that he didn’t know what he was doing, and during his last proceedings, which were also probate, he told the room he’s about to walk out the door and not know what he’s doing.
He’d like to continue work in the field, perhaps through mediation, but is going to take some time before finalizing future plans.
Jacobson and his wife, Shelley, have three daughters Emily, Hannah and Molly, and two grandchildren.
When he was sworn in as a judge, he recited a part of Micah 6:8 emphasizing the importance “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”