Born April 1, 1940, in Virginia, Illinois, Howard McKibben lived at The Baby Fold orphanage in Normal, Illinois, until 1942, when he and his sister, Marian, were adopted by James and Bernice McKibben. Judge McKibben’s father was superintendent of schools, and his mother was an English and Latin teacher. Throughout his oral history, Judge McKibben expresses his gratitude to his adoptive parents for the love and values that inform his life and career, and adoption remains an important advocacy issue for him.
From picking berries and fruit, mowing lawns, baling hay, detasseling corn, and measuring for farm subsidies to saving money for school and the occasional movie and root beer at the drugstore, Judge McKibben describes an idyllic Midwestern childhood. He talks about the importance of doing your best and enjoying what you do. In school, athletics were important, and he acquired an early appreciation for poetry and literature. A track scholarship sent him to Bradley University (BS 1962), then to the University of Pittsburgh for a master’s of public administration (MPA 1964). Law school at the University of Michigan (JD 1967) followed.
While in law school, he met Mary Ann Scott. It was love at first sight. In his own words, Judge McKibben says, “I didn’t want the music to stop. . . . We were very much in love and it was a nice journey.” The newlyweds—a new lawyer and a new librarian—came west, settling in Minden, Nevada. Public service was always in his mind, and it wasn’t long until McKibben transitioned from private practice to serving as a deputy district attorney for Douglas County. In 1971, he was elected district attorney and served until 1977. When he was asked to run for election to the state court, he was elected without opposition to the Ninth Judicial District Court for the State of Nevada, serving from 1977 to 1984. Judge McKibben’s experiences as a district attorney and a state court judge honed his philosophy and opinions about jury and trial procedure. Jurors rank high on his list—they are “the best goodwill ambassadors we have in the community.”
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan appointed Judge McKibben to the U. S. District Court for the District of Nevada. At the suggestion of then-Senator Paul Laxalt to express his interest in the position, on a trip and without a typewriter available, Judge McKibben handwrote a letter. The traditional and personal touch did not go unnoticed. His years as a state court judge were good preparation for the federal trial bench—he knew his values and principles, and he knew how to run a courtroom. A favorite childhood book, The Little Engine That Could, guides his work ethic that “you can always be successful if you work hard. . . . As long as you think you can do something and . . . put your mind to it, you probably can.” As a judge, he tries to follow what a mentor, Judge Roger Foley, said: that a good judge has a “kind and gentle heart.”
Whether on the bench, overseeing the administration of his court, or committee responsibilities, family is important in Judge McKibben’s life. He proudly acknowledges his wife, Mary Ann, and their children, Mark and Susan, for their help and support in his success.
For readers who are interested in examining the unaltered records, copies of the recorded interviews are available at the Special Collections department of the UNR Library.
Brad Williams conducted oral history interviews with the Hon. Howard D. McKibben from September 2005 to December 2006, with an additional interview in March 2008, at Judge McKibben’s chambers in Reno, Nevada. The interviews were conducted as part of the Nevada Legal Oral History Project, a joint effort of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society (NJCHS), the Nevada Judicial Historical Society (NJHS), and the UNOHP. Begun in 2001, the project was intended to record the life stories of leading members of Nevada’s legal profession and to educate the public about law and the courts by making those stories widely available through various media.
Members of the boards of NJHS and NJCHS compiled and vetted lists of potential narrators, ultimately selecting representatives from both the state and federal benches and bars. The UNOHP, under the direction of Tom King and his successor Mary Larson, recommended interviewers, most of whom were professional oral historians, and donated equipment and transcription services. Brad Williams, of NJCHS, coordinated the project from its inception. Susan Southwick, of NJHS, oversaw that group’s participation. Patricia Cooper-Smith completed the copyediting and introductions. Alicia Barber, Director of the UNOHP since 2009, supervised the project’s final publication and dissemination. The project was made possible by a generous challenge grant from the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, with matching funds provided by the U.S. District Court for Nevada Attorney Admissions Fund, the Washoe County Courthouse Preservation Fund, and the Nevada State Bar. Thanks go to Susan Southwick and the Board of Trustees of NJHS, and Brad Williams, who interviewed Judge McKibben.
Interviewee: Howard D. McKibben
Interviewed: 2005-2006; 2008
Interviewer: Brad Williams
UNOHP Catalog #225
This introduction is reprinted with permission from the University of Nevada Oral History Archive, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno. The full oral history transcript was created for the Nevada Legal Oral History Project. Click here for the full oral history transcript.
None at this time.