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Detroit Federal Judge Avern Cohn Turns 90 But Still ‘Sharp as a Tack’

Judge Avern Cohn (Photo by Harold White)
By Allan Lengel
Deadline Detroit

DETROIT — U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn’s second-floor courtroom in downtown Detroit is normally a sobering place where drama unfolds and lawyers do battle.

Judge Avern Cohn (left) poses at his birthday party in the courthouse with Appeals Court Judge Damon Keith (Photo by Harold White)

But on Wednesday, all was different. There was plenty joy in the air. Lawyers and judges, friends and family, reporters and court workers and a group of his former law clerks and staff filled the cavernous room to celebrate a milestone birthday: His 90th. There were soft drinks and little desserts and abundance of smiles and laughter.

Cohn moves these days a little slower than in the past, and certainly more so than in 1979 when he was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter. But Cohn, who has always been considered one of the shining legal minds in the courthouse, continues to display his sharpness and wit.

“The judge’s body may be 90, but his mind is 35 and sharp as a tack,” says defense attorney Robert Morgan, a former federal prosecutor. “He’s also the most voracious reader of pleadings, books, magazines and news articles of anyone I’ve ever known.”

At the party, he told the crowd that his relationship with his secretary Lori Van Hove is based on a “need to know basis. She tells me what I need to know.” 

The day after the party, Cohn told Deadline Detroit that he has no intention of slowing down even though he has taken senior status and is getting on in years.  Most judges with that status take a lighter load, though according to the Oakland County Legal News, Cohn isn’t alone. He’s one of 30 district judges 90 or over in the country on senior status who still take a full load.

He says he gets the same number of cases as the other judges, but adds: 

“The only reason I’m slowing down is because we’re all getting less cases.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen told the Oakland Legal News:

“At 90 years old, Judge Cohn remains what he has been for more than three-and-a-half decades – a vital force in the life of our court family, and the conscience of the court. He continues to preside over a full criminal and civil docket with a razor-sharp mind, astute intellect, and remarkable energy and enthusiasm. He is an institution on our court, and is admired, respected and beloved by his colleagues and our staff.”

Does Cohn still enjoy the job after all these years?

“I never use the word enjoy” when talking about the bench, he said. “I get great satisfaction. Enjoy isn’t a word that a judge should use.”

 


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