Wichita (US): In a courtroom in Wichita, Kansas, the day begins in the same way as it has been fro past 49 years; Court is in session, US District Judge Wesley Brown presiding. But what happens next is no longer routine; it's a testament to one man's sheer determination. (Agencies)
As lawyers and litigants wait in respectful silence, Brown, who is 103, carefully steers his power wheelchair behind the bench, his stooped frame almost disappearing behind its wooden bulk. He adjusts under his nose the plastic tubes from the oxygen tank lying next to the day's case documents. Then his voice rings out loud and firm to his law clerk, ‘Call your case.’
Brown is the oldest working Federal Judge in the nation, one of four appointees by President Kennedy still on the bench. Federal judgeships are lifetime appointments, and no one has taken that term more seriously than Brown.
"As a Federal Judge, I was appointed for life or good behavior, whichever I lose first," Brown quipped in an interview. How does he plan to leave the post? "Feet first," he says.
In a profession where advanced age isn't unusual - and, indeed, is valued as a source of judicial wisdom - Brown has left legal colleagues speechless by his stamina and devotion for work. His service also epitomises how the federal court system keeps working even as litigation steadily increases, new judgeships remain rare, and judicial openings go unfilled for months or years.
"Senior judges keep the federal court system afloat given the rising case loads," said David Sellers, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the US Courts. Of the 1,294 sitting federal judges, Brown is one of 516 on ‘senior status,’ a form of semi-retirement that allows a judge to collect his salary but work at a reduced case level if he chooses. They handle almost a quarter of federal district trials.
And no one alive has logged more service than Brown, who took senior status in 1979 but still worked fulltime until recently. In March, he stopped taking new criminal cases and lightened his case load a bit. He still takes his full share of the new civil cases.
"I do it to be a public service," Brown said. "You got to have a reason to live. As long as you perform a public service, you have a reason to live."
Brown gets a ride to the federal courthouse at 8:30 am every workday from the assisted living center where he lives. Until he was in his 90s, he climbed the stairs to his fourth-floor chambers. He works until about 3 pm presiding over hearings, reading court filings and discussing cases with his law clerks who handle the legal research.
In one concession to age, he keeps court hearings relatively short. But he listens intently to testimony and tells defendants to speak up or slow down if he has trouble following their statements. And, if necessary, he can be stern with lawyers, prodding them in a strong voice not to waste time.
Wichita (US): In a courtroom in Wichita, Kansas, the day begins in the same way as it has been fro past 49 years; Court is in session, US District Judge Wesley Brown presiding. But what happens next is no longer routine; it's a testament to one man's sheer determination.