People in the Village of Barker are calling it the end of an era.
Pistol-packing Justice Beryl T. Coleman retires today after serving 51 years on the bench -- the longest tenure in the state.
"It's time to get out," said Coleman, who turns 78 today. "I want to spend more time with my family, travel and just enjoy life."
Coleman was the judge for both Barker and the Town of Somerset in northeastern Niagara County until being defeated by Jeffrey P. Wick, 31, for the town bench two years ago.
Coleman's term as village justice expires in March 2007, but when the Village Board voted a year ago to amalgamate the village's court system with the town's, Coleman decided he would retire on his next birthday.
"I have a lot of respect for the judge, and he will definitely be missed," said Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III. "I believe he really tried to do justice for the people of Somerset and Barker."
Murphy's first trial as a defense lawyer was a traffic violation case that was convened in the living room of Coleman's house. Court was held there and other locations, such as Village Hall, until the courthouse was built in 1978.
Thursday was Coleman's last night as village justice, and it was a full calendar, said his clerk, Susan Rose of Barker, who also retires today after working with Coleman for 23 years.
"I will miss this job terribly," she said. "There's never a dull moment."
Coleman had a heart attack when he was 40 and a stroke a little over a year ago.
"It's time for him to slow down," said his wife, Carol. "But he will miss the work. He loves this village, and he always tried to do his best."
"He's been an institution here for half a century," said Barker Mayor Cheryl J. Parr. "He's a proud village man, and it's been an honor to have someone of his stature as judge."
Coleman's roots in Barker go back to his great-great-grandfather, Samuel, who settled the area with another pioneer, David Barker, for whom the village was named.
The judge was born and educated in the village and was a construction supervisor for New York Telephone in Lockport until he retired from the job in 1983.
Municipal judges are not required to have a legal background but are required to attend continuing legal education seminars.
Coleman adjudicated many controversial cases over the years, and some of his decisions weren't popular, which is why he always came into court with a .38-caliber pistol holstered under his robes. He never had to use it.
"I've had some good times as judge, but some were bad," he said.