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Oldest U.S. judge, 103, not set to retire

WICHITA, Kan. -- In a courtroom here, the day begins much as it has for 49 years: Court is in session, U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown presiding. But what happens next is no longer routine; it's a testament to one man's sheer determination.

Brown, 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 John F. Kennedy still on the bench. Federal judgeships are lifetime appointments, and no one has taken that term more seriously than Brown.

"I was appointed for life or good behavior, whichever I lose first," Brown quipped. How does he plan to leave the post? "Feet first," he says.

Of 1,294 sitting federal judges, Brown is one of 516 on "senior status," which allows a judge to collect his salary but at a reduced case level if he chooses.

And no one alive has logged more service than Brown, who took senior status in 1979 but still worked full time until recently. In March, he stopped taking new criminal cases. He still takes his full share of the new civil cases.

Brown gets a ride to the courthouse at 8:30 a.m. every workday from the assisted living center where he lives. He works until about 3 p.m., presiding over hearings, reading court filings and discussing cases with his law clerks.

Born June 22, 1907, in Hutchinson, Kan., Brown is six years older than the next oldest sitting federal judge.

He has outlived two wives and only moved into an assisted living center four years ago.

"I will quit this job when I think it is time," Brown said. "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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