This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.
Magistrate Judge Gives Gift of Life
U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Gregory Wehrman (E.D. Ky.) is a humble man being
praised for what many see as a heroic deed. Last June 20, he donated his left
kidney to a federal prosecutor.
"He represents all that is good in the federal Judiciary," Chief Judge Joseph
Hood (E.D. Ky.) said about his colleague. "Those who know him were not surprised
by this selfless act."
District Judge David Bunning, who works in the same Covington, Kentucky,
courthouse as Wehrman, added, "All who know him admire him. He is a stellar
person, a humanitarian, and just the consummate judge."
Wehrman, who became a part-time magistrate judge in 1975 and moved to
full-time status in 1991, had known Assistant U.S. Attorney E.J. Walbourn, 54,
as a courthouse regular but the two men were not personal friends. Walbourn had
been to the judge's house just once, to have a search warrant signed over a
Nevertheless, Wehrman, 62, volunteered to be a transplant donor shortly after
finding out about Walbourn's condition in the summer of 2005. The prosecutor
thanked the judge, but told him he hoped to receive a kidney from someone in his
When that hope faded, Walbourn—who lost one-third his body weight while on
dialysis—asked the judge if his offer was still good. "The doctors never told me
I was running out of time, but the end of the rope might not have been far off,"
Walbourn said in a recent interview.
The judge's offer was still good, removing Walbourn from a list of 60,000
Americans waiting for a kidney from a cadaver. (Kidneys from live donors are
preferred because the organs last longer. There is risk: about 6 in 10,000 live
donors die from infection or some other complication.)
"Years ago, I signed an organ-donor card. But I never thought I'd have the
opportunity to be a live donor," Wehrman said while working in his chambers in
early August. "All seemed to go well. I returned to work on a part-time basis
two weeks ago, and am working full-time now. I'm feeling very good."
Walbourn, too, reported feeling well. "The judge says he's no hero but my
family and I disagree," he said. "The judge is my hero, and so are his wife and
"My family was very supportive of my decision," Wehrman said. "It's been a
very emotional experience."
The deeply appreciative Walbourn has one regret. "I will miss practicing
before the judge," he said. "As soon as he agreed to be a donor, I decided never
to appear in front of him again. Even though I'm told that, with full
disclosure, I could handle cases before him, I think it raises too many issues.
I would never do anything to put Judge Wehrman's integrity in doubt."
Asked whether he had worried about any possible conflict, Wehrman chuckled as
he recalled one lawyer's quip. "He told me, 'Judge, I have to advise my clients
that you may be impartial, but you and E.J. are now a genetic match.'"
The judge said he hopes his decision will inspire others. "I'm a bit
uncomfortable with all this notice. I simply reacted to seeing someone I knew in
need," he said. "My family and I hope and pray that others hearing about this
will be moved to do the same thing. There is a great need."