Jan Fiss, who served as a St. Clair County judge for 40 years, including a stint as chief judge, died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 76.
“He was the one guy, along with (John) Baricevic, who was always there until the courthouse shut down,” said Belleville lawyer Tom Daley, who counted himself amongst Fiss’ best friends.
Fiss and Daley along with their friends, Belleville lawyers Jim Stiehl and James Gomric Sr., played cards together in a hybrid version of rummy called “liability.” The four have been friends for decades, Daley said. They decided to recreate a picture taken in the early 1980s almost 40 years later.
Fiss’ family was his priority, including his sons J.V. and Matthew, Daley said, as well as his parents. Fiss loved to have fun, Daley said, going to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games and tailgating at St. Louis Rams football games.
J.V. Fiss said Tuesday his father loved to play catch in the back yard with him and his brother. He would take his sons to the drive-in, just so they could spend time together.
“He really relished that --- us spending time together,” J.V. Fiss said. “It really shaped me into who I am as a father, too.”
As a judge, Fiss was known for tough sentences, Daley said, using the words “deplorable” and “horrible.”
“Prosecutors and law enforcement loved going to see Judge Fiss,” said State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly.
Fiss became St. Clair County Chief Judge, taking over from Steven Kernan.
“As a colleague, I am saddened by the death of Jan. He was a longstanding judge who brought good humor and a light-heartedness into the courthouse everyday,” current Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson said. “A good friend. A good man.”
Fiss had an open-door policy, welcoming lawyers and reporters with big hello and gesture to two wingback chairs that sat in front of his desk. The meetings would end with Fiss showing the most recent photos of his sons, and later granddaughters, and updates about what they were doing.
When asked whether he ever wanted to try for a seat on a higher court, Fiss replied, “I really have the best job in the world. Need I say more?”
With his health declining, Fiss did not run for his seat this November. Heinz Rudolf, a fellow Democrat, won his seat.
“Judge Fiss was the Chief Judge when I was appointed to the bench in February of 2006,” Rudolf said. “He was always so kind and approachable through the years. I will miss him greatly.”
Fiss is survived by his wife, Marsha Weston-Fiss,