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July 2006

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Working Judge Turns 99

  Judge Wesley E. Brown

Not every federal judge receives birthday wishes from the President and the Chief Justice of the United States, but Judge Wesley E. Brown is, well, extraordinary. On June 22, he took time from his work in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, to comment about turning 99.

“I’ve had more publicity than I deserve,” he told a local newspaper reporter. “I just know I’m still here, and I’m working the best I can. It’s been a challenge. Still is. That’s what makes it enjoyable.”

In an earlier interview, Brown told a Wichita television station, “I really don’t want to be known for being a judge at 99. I want to be known as a judge who does his job, and does the best he’s able under the circumstances of his life.”

Still, Brown’s birthday was noted in a card from President and Mrs. George W. Bush, and a letter in which Chief Justice John Roberts praised him for “the 60th anniversary of your 39th birthday.”

Appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, Brown took senior status rather than retire in 1979, at age 72. As a senior judge, he carries a reduced caseload but still reports to his chambers every week day. (Senior judges account for about 15 percent of the federal courts’ workload. Many of them, comparative youngsters, carry full caseloads.)

Chief Judge John W. Lungstrum (D. Kan.) praised Brown, saying, “It is a great honor to serve as his colleague.”

“He has tremendous energy and enthusiasm to go along with his wealth of experience and store of good judgment,” Lungstrum said. “He is also a very kind and generous individual with quite a sense of humor, who is well loved by all his colleagues and coworkers. We are very fortunate to have him as the patriarch of our court family.”

Flashes of Brown’s humor were displayed in his birthday interviews.

He said he was appointed to serve “for life, or for good behavior, whichever I lose first.”

And “I’m well aware I’m a little like the guy falling out of the 20th story. As he passed the 10th floor he said ‘I’m alright so far.’”

Brown also recounted a conversation he had shortly after joining the bench, in which he sought advice from an older colleague. “I said, ‘How do you get used to wearing the robe.’ He said, “You find out it’s just like your underwear. After awhile, you can’t get along without it.’”

The jocular judge takes his job, and his patriotism, very seriously. “I’ve never thought of my position as one of power. It’s one of obligation,” he said. “I’m here as a beneficiary of so many who have done so much. I owe them a great obligation, to be worthy of their trust.”.

At a recent naturalization ceremony in his courtroom, Brown told the gathered new U.S. citizens that their status “gives you the challenge to seek the truth in your country, the truth that will keep you free.”

Asked about America’s future, Brown responded, “Don’t sell it short.”