Nation's Oldest Federal Judge Dies At Age 104

Published January 24, 2012 4:27PM (EST)

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown, the nation's oldest sitting federal judge, has died at age 104.

Brown died Monday night at the Wichita assisted living center where he lived, his law clerk, Nanette Turner Kalcik, said Tuesday.

During his long tenure, the senior judge in Wichita repeatedly tried to explain why he had not yet fully retired from the federal bench.

"As a federal judge, I was appointed for life or good behavior, whichever I lose first," Brown quipped in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press. How did he plan to leave the post? "Feet first," Brown said.

Brown was appointed as a federal district judge in 1962 by then-President John F. Kennedy.

In 1979, Brown officially took senior status, a type of semiretirement that allows federal judges to work with a full or reduced case level. But he continued to carry a full workload for decades later.

"I do it to be a public service," Brown said in the AP interview. "You got to have a reason to live. As long as you perform a public service, you have a reason to live."

His long tenure on the federal bench rivals that of Joseph Woodrough, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, who had been the longest practicing judge in the federal judiciary when he died in 1977 at age 104.

In recent years, Brown's stooped frame nearly disappeared behind the federal bench during hearings. His gait was slower, but his mind remained sharp as he presided over a tightly run courtroom even after turning 104 last June.

It was not until March 2011 that Brown removed himself from the draw for assignment of new criminal cases. Several of his existing cases were reassigned to other judges as he continued to preside over fewer of his remaining criminal and civil cases. By the time he died he was no longer presiding over hearings.

By Salon Staff

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