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Curtin still carries passion for his work<br> At 89, he was recently recertified as part-time federal judge

John T. Curtin is 89 years old, struggling with some health problems but still working as one of Buffalo's federal district judges.

Curtin was recently recertified to continue working as a senior, part-time judge until at least October 2012, federal court officials said Monday.

"This is great news for us," said William M. Skretny, chief of federal judges in Western New York. "Judge Curtin handles a reduced caseload these days, but he's still working on his own cases and also has been helping other judges with their cases.

"This is a very congested court, and we truly appreciate Judge Curtin's help."

Curtin was recertified to continue serving by a council of judges from the Second Circuit Appeals Court in New York City. Curtin asked to continue serving as a senior judge, and his request was backed by Skretny.

Since 2004, Curtin has battled a number of health problems, including a stroke and heart attack at age 83. He occasionally comes to the courthouse but now does much of his work from home, where he researches cases, and aides bring him documents to read and sign.

According to Skretny, Curtin is not receiving new case assignments, but he assists with the long backlog of cases at Buffalo's federal court. Curtin has a judicial assistant and two law clerks working in his office, but his employees also assist other judges with their cases.

As a district judge, Curtin receives an annual salary of $174,000. If he retired, he would be allowed to take that same salary as a pension, but he said he still enjoys working.

If Curtin retired, he would not be replaced, because senior judges are not replaced in the federal system, Skretny noted.

"He's doing us a service by continuing his work for us," Skretny said. "He has some trouble getting around, but his mind is as sharp and active as ever."

Appointed in 1967 by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, Curtin is one of the longest continuously serving judges in the history of Western New York.

At times, he has been viewed as a controversial figure, especially in the 1970s, when he made some race discrimination rulings that upset some whites, and in the 1980s, when he was the subject of angry criticism from Buffalo's feisty mayor at the time, the late James D. Griffin.

"I still enjoy working on cases and helping out in any way I can," Curtin recently told The Buffalo News.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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