WARREN - Retired Common Pleas Judge John M. Stuard, 73, died Thursday morning after suffering an apparent heart attack at Trumbull Memorial Hospital.
Employees in the Trumbull County Courthouse were dumbfounded or in tears after hearing that Stuard died only 38 days after retiring and leaving his third-floor office and courtroom.
''It's a shock, and it's a shame,'' said Judge Andrew Logan, whose office and courtroom is also on the third floor. Logan said he considered Stuard his friend for more than 30 years.
Stuard's docket was inherited by Judge Ronald Rice, who was having lunch with Judge W. Wyatt McKay when both jurists got the news of Stuard's death independently from staff members.
Employees, including deputy clerks and sheriff's deputies on the court security detail, had thrown Stuard a retirement party in the Courthouse. Thursday their thoughts and prayers were with his family.
''He just had that uncanny ability of making you feel special. Whenever you talked with the judge - whether it was for two minutes or two hours - you left feeling better about yourself. He made you feel important somehow,'' said Magistrate Anthony Cornicelli, who worked with Stuard for many years.
''We're never going to find anyone like John Stuard in our lifetime,'' said attorney J. Gerald Ingram, who practiced in Stuard's court, including for capital murder cases.
Other attorneys pointed out how the judge was a student of history and of the Constitution.
Stuard, a Thiel College graduate with a University of Kentucky law degree, practiced law while serving as a solicitor in places like Newton Falls and even the Village of Orangeville near his home in Hartford. He did criminal defense work and also worked as a prosecutor for the City of Warren.
Appointed in 1983 as the first judge at newly created Central District Court in Cortland, Stuard was later appointed in 1991 to the Common Pleas bench, where he inherited the docket of Judge Robert Nader, who had been elected to the 11th District Court of Appeals.
When he was planning his retirement, Stuard said he was looking forward to spending more time inside his workshop, where he earned the reputation as a knowledgeable gunsmith.
A Civil War buff, the judge also was known for his skill in constructing canons from the period. He and a crew would participate in national shooting competitions with the artillery.
As of Thursday evening, it was not known what services may be planned.