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Senior U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin is eager to return to the federal court post that he had to leave last month after suffering a heart attack and a stroke.

But there are no definite answers on when, or if, the 83-year-old judge will be back in the courtroom.

"If my dad had his choice, he would be back in the courthouse already," said Patricia Curtin, the judge's daughter. "But for the next couple of months, his only focus will be on rehabilitation and therapy."

Asked whether Curtin has considered retirement, Patricia Curtin said, "We don't even want to go there right now. The focus is on him doing what he has to do to get better."

Curtin, one of the nation's longest-tenured federal judges, was not available to comment. He was hospitalized Oct. 9 after suffering a heart attack while attending a legal conference near San Diego. Then, on Oct. 18, after returning to Buffalo, he had a stroke.

Curtin was released from Buffalo General Hospital on Nov. 9 and is now recuperating at home.

"He has some restriction of movement in his left arm, and he needs rehabilitation for that," she said. "His strength is not what it used to be, but he can walk fairly well without a cane or walker. His speech is good.

"He's starting outpatient therapy, several times a week. Given that he had a heart attack and a stroke over a short period of time, the doctors tell us they are very happy with his progress."

Curtin has been one of the most respected and, at times, controversial figures in the Western New York legal community since his appointment in 1967.

Because he is a senior, or semiretired, judge, he would not be replaced if he were to retire. As a senior judge, he also has the option of working as much, or as little, as he wants. When senior judges retire, they receive their full salary of $158,100 as a pension.

The federal court in Buffalo, which serves the counties of Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming, is considered one of the busiest in the nation.

The Western District of New York currently ranks sixth out of 94 districts nationwide in the number of pending cases per district judge. As of June, 727 cases were pending for each full-time district judge in Buffalo and Rochester.

The Buffalo court has two full-time district judges, Richard J. Arcara and William M. Skretny, and another senior judge, John T. Elfvin, 87. Elfvin also has had health problems in recent years. Those judges are assisted by three full-time magistrate judges and one part-timer. Magistrate judges are not authorized to preside over felony trials.

The retirement of Curtin or Elfvin would be a major blow to the court, according to Rodney C. Early, district court clerk.

"Our two senior judges are vital," Early said. "Judge Elfvin pretty much handles a full caseload, both criminal and civil. Judge Curtin no longer takes criminal cases, but he takes quite a few civil cases.

"Judge Curtin is a beloved man here, and people feel badly that he is ill. Everybody here is hoping he will come back and expecting that he probably will."


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