NEWTON (FOX 25 / MyFoxBoston.com) FOX 25 met up with Chief Judge Mark Wolf at a conference in Newton just days after he announced a big change in his career.
Chief Judge Wolf is taking "senior status" after spending 27 years on the bench. The law states that senior judges are typically seen as volunteers and handle and estimated 15-percent of the federal courts' workload each year.
Although he will be presiding over fewer cases, the federal court judge does not see the move as "stepping aside."
"I'm not stepping aside. This is a recalibration of my professional life, but not a retirement," says Chief Judge Wolf.
Wolf says he'll continue to take criminal and civil cases, but that his caseload will be lighter. He says he wants to make room for a younger colleague.
"I think now we have a court with considerable experience and wisdom, and a young person brings a new kind of energy and enthusiasm," says Wolf.
Federal judges have lifetime tenure. The idea is to shield them from political pressure. FOX 25 asked Chief Judge Wolf about public opinion when it comes to controversial ruling, such as the recent case in which he ordered the state to fund gender reassignment surgery for a convicted murderer. He said he could not talk about any specific ruling, but said life tenure is meant to help ensure a judge can be fair.
"People have an entire right to disagree with government officials, including judges," the chief judge explains. "But it's a judge's duty to find the facts candidly to apply the law impartially and to not be influenced by what might be the anticipated public reaction to it."
Wolf also discussed the state drug lab scandal. He believes that there could be between 100 and 200 federal cases affected because they started out at the state level. That doesn't include defendants who have state convictions that qualify them for mandatory minimum sentences in federal court.
"When those cases are identified, we'll deal with them one at a time," says Wolf. "It doesn't necessarily mean that if the state drug lab is involved somebody's going to be getting out of prison or getting out imminently, but we have to be very concerned about the integrity of the judicial process in federal court."
The chief judges also says it's "unfortunate" that resources are going to have to be devoted to dealing with the drug lab probe in a time when the budget is under such tremendous strain. He says that they will be doing it in a way that is "fundamentally fair" and "conscious of public safety."
Chief Judge Wolf was nominated by President Reagan in 1985 and his term as chief judge ends on Dec. 31. He says he plans to continue hearing cases and will also teach for a week at the University of California at Irvine. His other plans include sitting as a visiting judge next spring with the ninth circuit, as well as paying another trip to the Czech Republic and Slovakia to speak with judges, lawyers, and students inspired by the American judicial system.
Definition of senior status from uscourts.gov:
"Beginning at age 65, a judge may retire at his or her current salary or take senior status after performing 15 years of active service.
A sliding scale of increasing age and decreasing service results in eligibility for retirement compensation at age 70 with a minimum of 10 years of service. Senior judges, who essentially provide volunteer service to the courts, typically handle about 15 percent of the federal courts' workload annually."