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Chief Judge Mark Wolf of the District of Massachusetts, who’s well known for high-impact criminal rulings and initiating a closely watched prosecutorial misconduct case, is taking senior status next January. According to an October 16 announcement, Wolf informed President Barack Obama that he plans to take senior status on January 1, 2013, the day after his seven-year chief judge term ends. Judge Patti Saris is slated to succeed Wolf in the chief judge slot. At the start of the year, Wolf will be 66 with 27 years of service as a judge. Federal law allows judges who are 65 years old with at least 15 years of service to retire, continue in active service or become a senior judge. Wolf’s decision creates a vacancy, which allows Obama to nominate a new judge. Wolf graduated from Yale University in 1968 and Harvard Law School in 1971. Wolf’s passion for prosecutorial purity dates back to the mid-1970s, when he helped found the Office of Professional Responsibility while working for U.S. Attorney General Edward Levi. President Gerald Ford hired Levi in 1975 to reform the department and help restore public faith in the government following the Watergate debacle. Wolf was nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in March 1985 and confirmed by the Senate the following month. Wolf said he plans to maintain a full criminal caseload and somewhat reduce his civil cases to take on other projects. Next March, for example, he plans to sit as a visiting judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, Calif. “I’m definitely not retiring,” he said. Wolf also said he want the freedom to continue overseas speaking engagements on issues like the role of the judge in an American democracy, combating corruption and human rights issues. Last spring, in three separate trips, Wolf traveled to Russia and Turkey and took a combined trip to the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia. “The addition of a new, undoubtedly younger, judge will enrich the court and permit me to do substantially, but not completely, what I’m doing now,” Wolf said. Wolf’s most notable rulings and actions stem from criminal cases. In 2002, he took the witness stand for the government in the trial of FBI agent John Connolly in U.S. v. Connolly. The same year, Connolly was sentenced to 121 months in prison for providing information and protection to criminal informants James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen Flemmi in exchange for bribes and favors. A series of Wolf’s hearings in the related case of U.S. v. Salemme, and Wolf’s 661-page order in September 1999 uncovered Connolly’s corruption and the FBI’s troubling relationships with criminal informants. Wolf is also known for initiating an ongoing prosecutorial misconduct case against Boston federal prosecutor Jeffrey Auerhahn.  In 2002, Wolf found that Auerhahn withheld exculpatory evidence that forced a federal judge to release two purported mobsters from prison: Pasquale Barone in 2003 in Barone v. U.S. and Vincent Ferrara in 2005 in Ferrara v. U.S. Wolf initially complied with then-U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts Michael Sullivan’s 2003 request to wait until the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility finished its probe before taking action against Auerhahn. Ultimately, Wolf was dissatisfied with Sullivan’s secret, written reprimand of Auerhahn in November 2006, so he referred the case to the state bar counsel. Wolf also wrote letters to Attorney Generals Alberto Gonzales, Michael Mukasey and Eric Holder Jr. outlining his dissatisfaction with the Justice Department’s discipline of Auerhahn. In the bar counsel case, a three-judge district court panel declined to sanction Auerhahn in September 2011, and the appeal is now pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. In another case, U.S v. Jones, Wolf found that prosecutor Suzanne Sullivan failed to disclose a police officer’s prior statements that conflicted with testimony about the defendant, Darwin Jones. Jones was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm after police stopped him while he was riding a bicycle. In May 2009, Wolf issued an order calling for the Boston U.S. attorney’s office to hold a training program focused on discovery in criminal cases. Last month, Wolf made waves in Kosilek v. Spencer by ordering sex reassignment surgery for a prisoner serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murdering his wife.  Wolf ordered the surgery for Michelle Kosilek, a transsexual whose first name was originally Robert, writing, “The federal right violated in the instant case is Kosilek’s Eighth Amendment right to the only adequate treatment for his serious medical need, sex reassignment surgery.” John Pappalardo, the Boston-based co-chairman of Greenberg Traurig’s white-collar criminal defense practice group, said that the Salemme case was just one of many cases in which Wolf’s “rulings reflected his deep belief in the processes of law to do justice to all who came into contact with it and his courage to take on the often difficult and sometimes unpopular matters that arise when our legal system falls short of its aims.” Pappalardo served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts from 1992 to 1993. He also worked for Wolf in the early 1980s, when Wolf was deputy U.S. attorney for the district and chief of the Public Corruption Unit. Boston criminal defense lawyer Martin Weinberg said that Wolf “makes every lawyer before him work harder and work better and makes the administration of criminal justice succeed.” Weinberg represented Ferrara and has practiced before Wolf for 23 years.  “He believes properly that being a federal judge is a noble mission. He’s devoted virtually every waking moment to bringing justice to each party and each case before him,” Weinberg said. Saris, who graduated from Radcliffe College in 1973 and Harvard Law School in 1976, was nominated by President Bill Clinton in October 1993 and appointed later that year. She also served as a magistrate judge in the District of Massachusetts from 1986 to 1989. Saris did not immediately respond to a message left at her chambers. Saris is “an extraordinary jurist and even better person,” said Bill Lee, a Boston partner at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr. Lee went to college with Saris, has tried several major cases before her, and served on the Harvard Board of Overseers with her. “She is smart, has great judgment and great empathy. She will be a great chief,” Lee said. Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.

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