Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of photo stories about judges who are older than 90. There is no mandatory retirement age for federal judges, unlike state judges who must be off the bench by age 70, or 76 if certificated. The series will run every Friday for five weeks.
It’s just after 8 a.m. on a weekday morning and an ice dancer, carrying skates, a helmet and his bottled water is just getting to Chelsea Piers. He opens the swinging door to the rink and is met by a blast of arctic cold air, the sound of sharp blades carving turns in the freshly cleaned ice and little skaters cheering each other on.
He sits down on a wooden bench, takes off his shoes and slips into a pair of custom fitted, black figure skates. Before hitting the ice, he pulls on a black, plastic helmet that offers some protection against concussion, in the event of a fall.
In a few hours, the same person will be pulling on his black robe and pounding a gavel, bringing his courtroom in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to order.
Meet Judge Robert Sweet, 95-years-old, a federal judge appointed in 1978. While he’s only been ice dancing for 22 years, Judge Sweet has always been active; he plays tennis, hikes and swims.
Fly-fishing out West has always been a favorite pastime for Judge Sweet. “It gets you out, into beautiful places, into nature,” said the judge who is still hearing important cases such as In Re Facebook Inc, IPO Securities and Derivative Litigation, a class action that consolidated suits stemming from Facebook’s initial public offering.
Sweet started ice dancing at age 73, at the insistence of his wife Adele. He’s been training under the watchful eye of Samvel Gezalian, a two-time Olympian who has been skating with Judge Sweet since his honor turned 80.
Gezalian has never had a student of Judge Sweet’s age. “I have very big respect for people who start at that age,” he said.
Their hour-long session begins with 20 minutes of forward and backward cross overs and swing rolls, the same warm-up routine used by Olympic champions.
“We want to make sure the muscles and joints are prepared for work,” said Gezalian. And work they do. For the next forty minutes, Judge Sweet practices his routine as ice dancing music plays from speakers around the rink.
Speaking in his lower Manhattan chambers, Judge Sweet says that he has no favorite routine. “Whatever comes along is fine,” he said.
“In competition, each level dance is progressively more difficult,” Sweet said. “Start with a Dutch waltz and the speed and step sequence become more complicated as you go up the ladder.”