After more than two decades on the federal bench, U.S. District Judge Richard Haik Sr. hung up his robe Friday and is returning to private practice.

“I love the courtroom,” Haik said. “I guess I’m just going to go out and see what I like to do best.”

Haik, 65, stepped down from a position he could have kept for life, deciding against the more common path of keeping “senior” judge status and working a light case load.

He said his main motivation is the opportunity to practice with his son, attorney Richard Haik Jr., and he plans to join the Opelousas-based firm where his son works: Morrow, Morrow, Ryan & Bassett.

“I probably would not have left if not for my son practicing law,” Haik said. “It’s always been my dream to practice with one of my children.”

The retired judge envisions handling personal injury cases, white-collar criminal defense and perhaps complex class-action or mass tort cases.

“I intend to do what they ask me to do that I want to do,” Haik said.

It’s been a few years since he has been on the other side of the bench.

Haik was 34 years old when elected in 1984 as a state judge for the 16th Judicial District, which includes Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes.

Six years later, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed him as a federal judge to sit in Lafayette for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Haik said his father always wanted him to be a judge.

His older brother, New Iberia attorney Theodore “Ted” Haik Jr., was the politician, serving 20 years in the state Legislature after first being elected in 1975.

But Haik’s father told his youngest son he might not have the diplomatic skills for the political world.

“Because if someone asks you a question, you tell them what you think,” Haik recalled his father saying.

At a Friday retirement ceremony, where more than 100 attorneys, judges, family members and friends packed into his old courtroom, Haik was described as a judge who ruled from his heart and was always quick with a joke.

He was seen more than once dressed as Santa Claus around the courthouse during the holidays.

When he occasionally forgot to silence his cellphone before the start of court, he might answer, “Mr. President, I can’t take the call.”

“Thank you for injecting a human element into our hectic and adversarial lives,” said an old friend and prominent Louisiana attorney, Patrick Juneau.

It wasn’t all fun.

Haik’s inauguration into the darker side of high-stakes litigation came early.

In his first year on the federal bench, an acquaintance offered him a $2 million bribe for a favorable ruling in a civil case with millions of dollars on the line.

Haik reported the bribery attempt to the FBI and participated in a sting operation that ended in the federal indictment of two prominent businessmen and an attorney.

“That was certainly eye opening,” Haik said.

He oversaw Lafayette Parish’s contentious and protracted desegregation case, which came to a close in 2006, and he ruled in thousands of civil and criminal cases.

He said sentencing criminal defendants — deciding how long to put another human behind bars — was always tough, but the job requires thick skin, and no matter how you rule, some unhappy soul will be on the losing end.

“You don’t make a lot of friends in this job. You really don’t do it for the money. You do it because you want to do it,” Haik said.

No decision has been announced about Haik’s replacement on the federal bench.

“Have I heard what’s going on? Yes. Can I tell you? No,” Haik said.