Editor’s Note: This is one of 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. See previous stories on Southern District Judge Robert Sweet, Eastern District Judge Leonard Wexler and Eastern District Judge Jack Weinstein.
If it weren’t for next-door neighbor Henry Cohen, Arthur Spatt might never have become a lawyer or a judge.
After returning to his Sheepshead Bay home at the end of World War II, the former Navy navigation petty officer wanted to be a chart maker, which was similar to the work he did on the USS Sherburne in the Pacific.
“I like English, I like history but I don’t like math or science,” said Spatt, a U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip.
“Mr. Cohen, who was an attorney, said I’d be a great lawyer,” said Spatt.
That conversation, outside the family home he shared with his grandparents and parents, started the legal career of Spatt, who turned 92 this week.
Born in 1925, Judge Spatt attended Brooklyn Law School on the GI Bill. He was in private practice in New York City from 1949 to 1978 and served as a judge on several courts from 1978 to 1988.
He was nominated to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush on Oct. 25, 1989, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Nov. 21, 1989.
When you speak with him on the phone, his voice and his words are as clear as someone half his age.
His five daughters and eight grandchildren are a large part of his life outside the courthouse, and family vacations in Maine are a tradition and always include walks along the water, swimming and time with the kids.
Spatt still reads the print editions of the New York Law Journal, The New York Times and Newsday. “I’m just an old-fashioned guy, I guess,” he said.
He finds it “remarkable” that there are four World War II veterans still sitting as active judges on the court in the Eastern District. Judges Spatt, Jack Weinstein, Leonard Wexler and Leo Glasser have all served their country.
Spatt said there is no magical elixir that explains their longevity. “We live well, take care of ourselves and have had good fortune,” he said.
He exercises at home, walks all around the courthouse and “likes plain food,” said the judge but his New York roots show through in some of his dining choices.
Rice Krispies and coffee for breakfast are complemented by half a linzer torte and his healthy lunch of half a turkey sandwich often is topped off with a black and white cookie.