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Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit announced last week that he will step down from his position as chief judge on Feb. 10. Judge David Sentelle will replace him — and just in the nick of time. U.S. code prohibits appellate judges 65 years and older from taking the helm, except in rare circumstances. Sentelle, who turns 65 on Feb. 12, will become chief judge on Feb. 11. (Don’t expect a torch-passing ceremony. The D.C. Circuit has traditionally avoided pomp. In fact, Sentelle and Ginsburg won’t even be swapping chambers.) Ginsburg declined to comment on his reasons for stepping down, but court watchers say he did the polite thing by bowing out nearly six months before his seven-year term was set to expire. “It’s a fairly common practice,” says Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “And it’s obviously the collegial thing to do.” Ginsburg’s Jan. 24 announcement was the second in as many months to come from Washington’s federal courthouse. Chief Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia announced last month that he will take senior status in May. Judge Royce Lamberth will replace him. Ginsburg joined the D.C. Circuit in 1986 and became chief judge in 2001, just weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At 61, he will remain an active member of the bench, a court spokeswoman says. During his tenure, Ginsburg endorsed changes to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure that allow unpublished opinions to be cited in legal briefs. Sentelle was confirmed in 1987, after two years on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. He has served as the presiding judge of the division that appoints special counsel and is chairman of the Judicial Conference’s Judicial Security Committee.
Joe Palazzolo can be contacted at [email protected]. Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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