Judge Back On Bench After Rehab

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Washoe District Charles McGee, after about two months in an alcohol rehabilitation center, said he's ready to resume his judicial duties with heightened awareness.

"I feel reinvigorated,"the 58-year-old family and drug court judge told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

McGee checked himself into the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at the end of April and stayed there until the end of June.

He said his drinking reached an uncontrollable level following the death of his father in December.

McGee said he'll continue treatment at the center by returning for a day every two weeks for perhaps another month, he said.

While a personal matter, McGee said he recognized that his position in the community made it a public issue.

"For people in recovery, anonymity is everything,"he said."But I'm an elected public official and anything that could affect my performance is public information."

McGee, who returned to the bench Monday, said he planned to resume his regular calendar of cases, with one adjustment.

"They advised me to reduce my child-abuse cases because I tend to take them home,"he said. Officials at the center warned that sort of stress could serve as a trigger for a relapse in drinking, he said.

McGee has been a Washoe District Court judge since 1984 and has never been contested in a bid for re-election.

He is credited with helping found the county's family court system, which has served as a model for courts across the country. In 2000, he received a humanitarian award from the National Conference for Community and Justice for his work building the court with limited resources.

About three years ago, his drinking began to cause problems in his life, he said.

His mother, Ardella McGee, died in November 2001. Then his 90-year-old father, Loring"Mac"McGee, died last December.

"He suffered a stroke and raged in the hospital bed for two weeks _ he roared and flexed and cried out,"McGee recalled."I always looked to him to solve my problems. I couldn't cope with it."

The extra drinks he had started having at home after 5 p.m. turned into"four or five belts"before arriving home, he said. And the person who suffered the most from his struggle was his wife Karen, he said.

McGee said he never drank before or during work.

"I couldn't process the grief I had,"he said, adding his family looked to him for strength."I felt I had to be someone they could lean on."

But the death of his parents was not a valid excuse, McGee was quick to add.

"Drinking itself may be a disease,"he said,"but doing something about it is the responsibility of the individual."

So before hitting bottom, he stepped off the bench and headed to Southern California for what became a soul-searching, sometimes humiliating period of growth and pain, he said.

"The recovery process is a journey of personal development,"he said.

McGee said he believes the experience will help him do a better job in the family court. He has a greater understanding, he said, about the people who come before him.

"It is a potential state of grace to be able to serve other people with integrity,"he said."If people give me a little while and they have similar problems, when I get my sea legs under me, I'd be happy to try and help them, too."