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Cass County judge back on bench after freak basketball injury

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Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - A Cass County District Judge is back on the bench after a bizarre sports injury left him without sight.

Judge John Irby heard his first court cases Monday after a two-month leave from the court.

Judge John Irby- Returns To Court: "How do you plead?"

Judge John Irby was back on familiar turf Monday, but in unfamiliar circumstances.

Irby: "Take a minute to get organized. Sorry, Mr. Beauchene, sorry about that."

The judge has lost vision in his right eye, and temporarily, reduced vision in his left.

Irby: "It did feel good to be back. You want to feel like you contribute. I was apprehensive about it."

With the help of court staff and coworkers, Irby is hearing criminal cases with a few tweaks of technology.

Irby: "Changing the computer contrast so I don't fight glare, and change the computer mouse from white to black so it got easier to track that."

A lighted magnifying glass also helps the judge see things the computer glare prevents him.

Irby: "From my office, my co-workers installed a larger monitor, and that has helped immensely."

It all started when the judge was playing noon basketball. As he and another player went for the ball, the opponent's hand hit Irby's right eye, rupturing it, causing total vision loss, permanently. The basketball hit the judge's left eye, causing a detached retina.

Irby: "I knew right away it was bad, boom, lights out right away."

Initially, Irby has no vision, relying on family to get around. That has changed his perspective.

Irby: "I realize there are people out there who have challenges far greater than mine."

The judge says the whole experience has taught him renewed appreciation for those who live with disabilities every day, and he looks forward to the day when a day on the bench seems normal again.

Irby: "I work in a great place with great people."

In February, Judge Irby will have surgery on his good eye, in hopes of restoring even more vision to it.

Kevin Wallevand

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia and the Middle East. He is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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