Celebrating Four Fabulous Nonagenarians for E.D.N.Y.’S 150th
By Chris Jensen, Steven Flanders, and Bennette Kramer
On September 8, 2015, the Eastern District of New York and the Federal Bar Council American Inn of Court joined together to present a program in connection with the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Eastern District. The event was A Conversation with the Eastern District’s “Greatest Generation” – four remarkable Eastern District judges, still extremely active beyond their ninetieth birthdays, who had served in World War II. Second Circuit Judge Reena Raggi – a former Eastern District judge herself – moderated the panel comprised of Judges Jack B. Weinstein, I. Leo Glasser, Leonard D. Wexler, and Arthur D. Spatt. Judges Weinstein and Spatt served in the Navy, while Judges Glasser and Wexler served in the Army during the war. Collectively, these four judges have served on the bench for nearly 140 years.
Judge Raggi asked each of the judges a series of questions, starting with questions about their war experiences, which varied considerably. Judge Weinstein served as a Lt. Commander in the Navy on a submarine that sank a Japanese Cruiser. Judge Wexler was an enlisted man who was injured by shrapnel fighting in Europe and received two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. Judge Glasser served as an interpreter in the Army and entered into Germany with the U.S. Army. Judge Spatt was a navigation petty officer on an amphibious attack transport ship. Judge Thomas C. Platt served on a PT boat, and then as a navigator on a Navy troop transport ship, but was unable to attend the program.
Judge Raggi’s inquiry as to the biggest change each judge had experienced drew diverse and telling responses. Judge Spatt focused on sentencing, speaking of the need for judges to recognize that the guidelines are not mandatory, avoiding draconian sentences. Judge Wexler welcomed the huge increase in women lawyers, now a majority of new lawyers, while his law school class had one woman out of 400 graduates. Judge Glasser spoke of the “mechanization” of the law: now any lawyer has access to any case anywhere. Judge Weinstein noted many other changes, among them the huge expansion of the court, and of federal jurisdiction. Judge Weinstein also observed that our society has become far more open; much was closed to many in the 1920s and 1930s, but the judge also focused on contemporary efforts to close doors, notably regarding class actions.
All four said that their experiences in the war had a profound effect on their later lives and careers. Judge Weinstein said that one of the most valuable lessons he learned from his military service was the ability to command and that he uses that experience to command his courtroom today. Judge Wexler spoke about his experience of being hit by shrapnel and how his military service helped him to mature as a person. Judge Glasser spoke about entering German homes where everyone denied being a Nazi sympathizer but there were swastikas on the wall. Judge Spatt was on his way to invade Japan and was only a thousand yards away from the USS Missouri when the Japanese surrendered.
Next, Judge Raggi asked questions about the panelists’ adjustment to the bench and what had been the most difficult part of the transition. All of the judges spoke about the satisfaction and privilege of being a federal judge although they discussed the difficulty of criminal sentencing.
Finally, she asked them what advice they had for current and future judges. Judge Weinstein reminded the younger judges that they are free to dispense justice. He also got a big laugh when he described his court as adhering to something that “resembles” the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Judge Glasser said that the most important thing for a younger judge to remember is to talk less and listen more.
An Extraordinary Evening
This was an extraordinary evening in every respect. The wealth of experience of these jurists is astounding and the fact that they are still active on the bench in their 90s is inspiring. All four judges expressed special pleasure both as to the “great job” they occupy, and the outstanding quality of the recent judicial appointees.