KENNEWICK -- There was almost as much laughter as there were tears at retired Judge Fred Staples' funeral service Monday as friends and family shared memories.
He was remembered for his sharp legal mind, his tenacious pursuit of causes and interests, and his gruff exterior that hid a love for his family.
Staples, who died Sept. 19 at the age of 77, retired from the Benton-Franklin Superior Court bench in 1994 as its longest-serving judge.
Many from the legal community joined his family and friends to honor him Monday, filling Mueller's Tri-Cities Funeral Home in Kennewick to standing room only.
"He was one of the brightest men I've known," said Stephen Gaddis, a retired Superior Court judge in King County and Staples' friend and neighbor.
When Staples was working, his desk was covered with legal notepads as he did his own research. He didn't think the attorneys who came before him briefed the cases well enough, said Lisa Lang, his court reporter.
Even after retirement, if he read or learned of a case, he would do his own research and come up with a cogent and logical decision. Then the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals or even District Court would hear from him, Gaddis said.
Judge Dennis Sweeney, of the Washington State Court of Appeals in Spokane, remembered when one of his colleagues reversed Staples' ruling on a matter of the amount of discretionary authority judges could wield.
The next time Sweeney saw his friend, Staples had virtually memorized the ruling and didn't hesitate to share it and his opinion.
In time, Staples was vindicated, with the Washington State Supreme Court reversing the Appeals Court.
"He was a very thoughtful scholar of the law," Sweeney said.
Staples' legal career did not have an auspicious beginning, however, his brother Jack Staples said.
When the judge graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane with his law degree in 1960, he and his two brothers celebrated with drinking and a drive across the northern Idaho border.
They were stopped after almost running a patrol car off the road, and Frank Staples, who had a badge as a member of the Hanford Patrol, was attempting to sweet talk the officer, when Fred jumped out of the car and threatened to sue, their younger brother said.
All three where taken into custody.
When the judge took an interest in something, he was tenacious, his brother, Jack, remembered.
"To call him obsessive was like calling the pope Catholic," he said.
The Tri-City area community saw that with his repeated campaigns to move the Benton County seat to Kennewick to meet state legal requirements.
"This is no time for politics, but we know he was right," said Gaddis, to laughter.
His family knew the trait, whether it was taking up bowling, practicing long hours and recounting each ball thrown, or his foray into motor home travel with a problem-plagued vehicle that he eventually proposed fixing by spending $30,000 to retrofit with a diesel engine.
Cigars were another passion. Bubble-gum replicas were handed out at the service, and speakers wondered whether the judge had found a smoking area where he was now.
Just like the cigars he smoked, the judge had no filter, Lang said.
She remembered the judge asking, "Is he responsible for your present condition?" as he heard a paternity case with a woman asking for more support from one of the five fathers of her five children.
"Ain't you pregnant?" he asked, as she looked confused. She was not.
It was just another day in court for Staples, Lang said.
When Lang got engaged, she might have expected a nice gift, given the bond that judges and their court reporters share.
Instead, she came back from lunch one day and found a copy of Smart Women, Foolish Choices on her desk.
"I didn't read the book, but I always appreciated he hadmy back," she said.
Seventeen years after he retired, he still remembered Lang's birthday each year and called her, she said.
The last year of his life was difficult for Staples, Gaddis said. The Benton County coroner has yet to rule on a manner of death, but it was consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Staples had untreatable back pain, digestive illnesses and cancer that kept him from the life he wanted of travel, golf and unlimited support for his family, Gaddis said.
He is survived by his wife, Kay, the retired Benton County clerk; sons Rex and David; and a grandson and granddaughter.
He will be remembered for his influence on the Tri-City community, said speakers at his funeral.
Staples leaves a legacy as "no mere philosopher. He was an activist and a doer," Gaddis said. He was never "a why person. He was a why not person."
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com