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Judge Beats Eighth Circuit Woodrough for Longest in Federal Courts

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By Dyanna Quizon, Esq. on January 25, 2012 3:02 PM

Most of us look forward to retirement as a time to rest, relax and enjoy the fruits of our long years of hard work.

For U.S. Senior District Judge Wesley Brown and Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Joseph Woodrough, retirement was never a word in their vocabulary.

Brown recently surpassed Woodrough as the nation's longest and oldest sitting federal judge, dying at the age of 104 on Monday.

Woodrough also died at the age of 104, shortly after his birthday. Unlike Woodrough, Brown continued to do judicial work in his advanced age, handling a full criminal docket at the federal courthouse in Wichita while on senior status.

"As a federal judge, I was appointed for life or good behavior, whichever I lose first," Brown told the Associated Press. And Brown knew which way he wanted to go: "Feet first."

Federal judges are among the rare workers who are given the opportunity to work as long as they want. As the Constitution describes it, they may keep working "during good behavior." Most federal judges can resign outright, and continue to receive their full salary once they reach 65. It's a sweet deal that many people would jump on, but many federal judges decline.

Brown and Woodrough are not the only examples of judges who have taken their life-time appointment seriously. There are at least eight other judges who are in their 90s in the federal system, according to the Associated Press.

With the increasing life expectancy average, however, older jurists have endured some criticism and skepticism about their capabilities as judges. Both the Ninth and Tenth Circuits have established committees dealing with age- and health-related issues facing judges in order to address the potential problem, according to The New York Times.

But judges like Wesley Brown have provided evidence that those fears may be unfounded. During the past year, Brown removed himself from criminal cases, no longer presided over hearings, and sought the recommendations of magistrate judges on evidentiary hearings.

In the end, he lived up to a promise he made last year to the Associated Press:

"I will quit this job when I think it is time. And I hope I do so and leave the country in better shape because I have been a part of it."

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