WINNEMUCCA - January of 2014 will be an exciting month for judicial campaign watchers as candidacy filing begins for both judge positions in the Sixth Judicial District.

Although I haven't seen or heard anything official from Judge Richard Wagner, he's indicated that he's retiring and won't seek re-election to the bench. Wagner wasn't even challenged in the primary in 2008, breezing through for another (and last) six-year term.

Wagner's departure after two decades will create an open seat with no incumbent to beat, an invitation for every attorney within 100 miles to run for office.

The other judge seat in the Sixth Judicial District is also up for election, but there is a potentially strong incumbent in Mike Montero.

Montero is a nice guy, a Lowry High grad who, in my opinion, dispenses justice with a sense of fairness and evenhandedness. He's the local guy made good and would be tough to beat.

Montero easily won his seat on the bench in the general election in 2008, taking about 65 percent of the vote in each of the three counties that make up the Sixth Judicial District - Humboldt, Lander and Pershing.

There's another twist in the district court judge elections that's worth mentioning. Unlike other elected offices, candidates for district court judge don't have to reside here to file for judicial office. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled district court judges are state officials.

You could get a lawyer out of Reno or Las Vegas who wants to don the black robe, although that candidate, unless he or she had deep roots in northern Nevada, would be immediately characterized in these provincial parts as an interloper of sorts.

It was pointed out to me that some Washoe County attorneys have opened an office or established a local presence of late, maybe paving the way for a run at district court judge.

First out of the gate for Wagner's seat on the bench is Kevin Pasquale, chief deputy district attorney for Humboldt County. Pasquale brashly announced his candidacy with a kick-off at the Martin Hotel a couple of weeks ago.

Pasquale's home turf in Humboldt County has the most votes out of the three counties, but the other two counties are crucial in elections that might be decided by a few thousand votes. Previous district court judge elections have been won with less than 10,000 votes between the three counties.

It's an interesting strategy with little political downside to get an early start. It suggests a certain amount of earnestness. In a press release Pasquale sent to the Sun, he said Wagner was a "role model."

Another prospective candidate for Judge Wagner's seat on the bench to watch at this early date is Pershing County District Attorney Jim Shirley.

Shirley unsuccessfully ran in 2008 for the seat Montero won in the general election. Montero and Kent Maher came out of the five-way rugby scrum of a primary and went on to the general election.

As of Friday, Shirley was noncommittal about running for Wagner's seat, saying it's premature for a decision. He said he'll wait until a little closer to filing time to make an "informed decision."

He estimated it will cost $30,000 to $40,000 to run in the primary for district court judge, when the advertising, gas and other expenses are added up.

An open seat on the district court bench doesn't come around that often. The field will be crowded.

Steve Lyon is editor of the Humboldt Sun. Contact him at editorial@winnemuccapublishing.net.