When it comes to retirement, federal judges have a pretty good deal.
Assuming they've been on the federal bench for at least 15 years, they can retire when they are 65, keeping their full salary. If they want to stay in the game, they can go on what is called senior status, where they stay on the payroll but with a lesser workload.
Gerald Bard Tjoflat, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, was eligible to retire or take senior status 20 years ago. But he is going nowhere, it seems, keeping a full caseload.
At 85, the Gerald Ford appointee is the longest serving, currently active federal judge in the country. Appointed to the district court in 1970 by Richard Nixon, Tjoflat celebrated his 45th anniversary as a federal judge last month. And this month—his wife, Marcia, keeps track, he says—he becomes the only judge to have been in active service on a federal court of appeals for 40 years.
He hardly seems to be slowing down. Though it has been nearly 20 years since he served as the Eleventh Circuit's chief judge, he recently headed up a highly sensitive inquiry into conduct by an Alabama federal judge. He continues to regularly churn out opinions of 40 pages or more.
In a recent interview at the Eleventh Circuit's Atlanta courthouse, as well as some follow-up exchanges, Tjoflat discussed his life and career.
A 'Freakish' Court Appointment
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Tjoflat attended college at the University of Virginia, where he played college baseball. He even worked out with the Cincinnati Reds for a couple of weeks one summer. But Tjoflat says a desire to keep his education on track, as well as problems with his feet, kept him from going further. Born with club feet, he says, they had to be essentially reconstructed with experimental surgery when he was an infant.
While he was at UVA, his family had moved to Ohio, and he switched to the University of Cincinnati, where he began law school. (He never received an undergraduate degree, he says.) His father was an engineer and patent lawyer. "I went to law school for no other reason than that," says Tjoflat.
The Korean War interrupted Tjoflat's law school studies. Tjoflat says he spent the war in Virginia as a counterintelligence agent, doing investigative work that cemented his decision to pursue a legal career. He returned to Cincinnati but ultimately received his law degree from Duke University in 1957.
Taking an offer from a firm in Jacksonville, Florida, Tjoflat spent about a decade in a general private practice.
He describes his appointment to a state trial court opening as "freakish." The area was dominated by Democrats—but the governor who would fill the post, Claude Kirk, was the first Republican since Reconstruction to hold the office. "I was a registered Republican," says Tjoflat. "You could count 'em on your fingers and toes, really." Plus, he says, Tjoflat's firm had represented an insurance company in which the governor had been involved.
Tjoflat says he figured he wouldn't last once he had to face the voters in a partisan race. "I had told my partners, 'I'll see you in January.'" But no one registered to run against him.
And soon, in October 1970, he was nominated by Nixon to a new seat in the Middle District of Florida and confirmed by the Senate a week later.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
The Cal Ripken of the Judiciary...
...is Gerald Tjoflat. From the Daily Report: