Wesley Brown: The oldest federal judge in US history

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The Independent Online

The US District Judge Wesley Brown, who died on 23 January at the age of 104, was the oldest sitting federal judge in US history.

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 behaviour, whichever I lose first," Brown said in 2011. How did he plan to leave the post? "Feet first," he replied.

Brown (pictured above right in 2000), was appointed as a federal district judge in 1962 by President Kennedy. In 1979, he officially took senior status, a type of semi-retirement that allows federal judges to work with a full or reduced case level. But he continued to carry a full workload for decades.

"I do it to be a public service," he said. "You got to have a reason to live. As long as you perform a public service, you have a reason to live."

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. It was not until last March that Brown removed himself from the draw for assignment of new criminal case, and by the time he died he was no longer presiding over hearings.

Brown had asked his colleagues years before his death to notify him if at any point they felt he was no longer able to serve. "I will quit this job when I think it is time," he said. "And I hope I leave the country in better shape."

Brown, who was born on 22 June 1907, in Hutchinson, Kansas, was six years older than the next oldest sitting federal judge. At least eight other federal judges are in their nineties.

Brown started his career with the firm of Williams, Martindell and Carey in Hutchinson. Except for two brief breaks – one at 27 when he was elected Reno County attorney and the other at 37 when he joined the Navy – Brown spent his Hutchinson career practicing law there. In 1939, he became a partner.

He moved to Wichita at 50 after receiving his first federal appointment as a bankruptcy judge in Wichita in 1958, and four years later was appointed a federal district judge in Wichita.