Former judge Mills Lane honored by new justice center
Mills B. Lane Justice Center
What: Public celebration of grand opening, with food and tours.
When: Noon to 3 p.m. today.
Where: Corner of Sierra and Court streets.
Parking: The public is encouraged to take the free Sierra Spirit downtown shuttle service that runs every 10 minutes. Free parking at the Circus Circus garage on West Sixth Street between Sierra and North Virginia streets.
From the deck of his southwest Reno home, former Washoe District Judge Mills Lane can see the new justice center named in his honor.
Sometimes, the sight brings tears to his eyes, said Kaye Lane, his wife of 26 years.
The grand opening today of the Mills B. Lane Justice Center is a fitting tribute to a man whose roller-coaster ride of a life put him in the spotlight as a nationally televised judge and an international boxing referee before it was darkened by a debilitating stroke in 2002, his friends and family said.
"As a man of justice, having a building where justice will be dealt named after him means the world to my dad," Lane's 19-year-old son, Tommy said.
Kaye Lane said her husband, also a former Washoe County district attorney, felt the courts belonged first and foremost to the people and had no tolerance for judges who let the power of the bench go to their heads.
"He called it 'black-robe fever,'" she said. "But Mills was never a snob. We'd go to dinners and I'd find him in a corner talking to the waiters or a bartender.
"When he had this stroke and we began getting all these cards, I realized how many people's lives he had touched."
On March 31, 2002, Lane suffered a stroke while alone in his Reno home. It damaged the part of his brain that controls his speech and the right side of his body.
Now 68, Lane can barely talk and he walks with a limp. It's a hard road for a man once known for his athleticism, quick wit and distinctive high-pitched twang.
"I still can't begin to comprehend what he's going through," said Terry, the Lanes' 23-year-old son. "I think he's embarrassed being around people because he's unable to speak well."
Kaye Lane said her husband is trapped in a body that won't obey his commands.
"I keep telling him his soul is the same," she said. "You're the same man."
Lane's wife and sons remember a man famed for his razor-sharp sayings and frugality.
"He was full of colorful phrases," Kaye Lane said. "If Mills didn't trust somebody, he'd say, 'He'll piss in your pocket and shake your hand at the same time.'"
Lane also saved on utility bills with "Marine showers," getting wet, then shutting off the water to soap up before turning it back on for a quick rinse, his wife said.
"He actually put a paper clip on the thermostat so we couldn't turn the heat up past a certain point," Terry Lane said.
And he still patrols unoccupied rooms for lights or televisions left on.
Peter Breen, a senior district judge, used to watch Lane box as a welterweight for the University of Nevada when they were students.
"He boxed the way he lived his life, taking the straightest distance between two points," Breen said. "In the ring, he'd take a boxing stance, glare at the other guy and then come straight at him. He was a simple man and very plain spoken."
Lane's upbringing and experiences cut across all cultures, he said.
"His family was part of high society in the South. He came from Savannah, Ga., went to prep school in New England and then joined the Marines," Breen said.
Named for his bank president grandfather, Mills Bee Lane III grew up mostly on a farm in South Carolina.
"So people from all walks of life were appealing to Mills," Breen said.
Lane gained international fame for refereeing world championship boxing matches, including the infamous 1997 bout when Mike Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield's ear. He also starred in the "Judge Mills Lane Show" televised nationally from 1998 to 2001.
Lane earned a reputation as a leader who led by example, said District Attorney Richard Gammick, one of Lane's close friends.
"Just look at all the different aspects of his public service: a former Marine, working his way up through the district attorney's office, serving as a judge," Gammick said.
Lane's mind is still strong, Gammick said.
"That was one of the tragedies of this whole thing. His unique voice and comments. That was Mills," he said. "It's been tough on him, but on the positive side, I've seen a tremendous relationship grow between him and his two sons, Tommy and Terry."