Judge Wesley E. Brown was appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. He served as a United States Federal District Court Judge until his death on January 23, 2012 at 104 years of age. Judge Brown was the oldest sitting judge in the federal court system, and one of the finest.
1907 - 2012
Judge Wesley E. Brown
"I will quit this job when I think it is time. And I hope I do so and
Wesley E. Brown was born on June 22, 1907 in Hutchinson, Kansas. He was the second child born to Julia and Morrison Brown. During his early childhood, his father was a successful dry goods salesman, owning a dry goods store in Halstead, Kansas for a period of time and selling dry goods nationally thereafter. The Brown family was happy and relatively well-to-do.
Shortly before Wesley's eighth birthday, his father fell ill, losing his sight and his ability to work for the next four years. To survive, the entire Brown family worked. This included Wesley, who worked odd jobs, sometimes several at a time, for the remainder of his childhood. Notwithstanding all of the work, Judge Brown’s Memoirs reflect that he had a happy childhood.
A "B" student in high school, Wesley was encouraged by his father and family friends to study the law. Inspired by that encouragement, he set out for Lawrence, Kansas to attend college in the fall of 1925. He failed two classes his first semester of college, due to poor study habits. While he was re-instated for the second semester, his lackluster grades resulted in his ejection from the fraternity that he joined, which meant he had nowhere to live. His meager job at the A.D. Weaver Dry Goods Company was not sufficient to cover tuition and rent, so Wesley returned home to live with his parents. He took a job at Citizens State Bank in Hutchinson to save money to return to college, and managed to return to the University of Kansas in the fall of 1927 for another two years of course work. His grades improved, but he became increasingly impatient, as he had decided that he wanted to practice law in order to make his way in the world.
With his grades improved, Wesley Brown left KU early and began attending law school in the fall of 1929 at the Kansas City School of Law (now the University of Missouri School of Law at Kansas City). While attending law school in the evenings, he worked days on the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company factory in Kansas City. However, he was laid off during his second year of law school, and returned to Hutchinson to save money to finish law school. He re-enrolled in law school in the fall of 1932. He obtained jobs working at two different law firms, where he read the law in pursuance of his legal education, and graduated law school in 1933. During his last year of law school, he met his future wife, Mary Miller, who was also a law student.
The Practice of Law
After passing both the Kansas and Missouri bar exams, Wesley Brown obtained his first position as an attorney with the firm of Williams, Martindell & Carey, in Hutchinson, Kansas. In the midst of the Great Depression, he made only $25 per month, which was a meager salary even in 1933.
Desiring a job that would pay enough to support a family, so that he could ask Mary Miller to marry him, Wesley ran for the office of Reno County Attorney, which paid about $3,000 per year. He ran as a Democrat, but on a non-political platform that was summed up in just three words: "Enforce the Law." Winning election in 1934, he took office in 1935, and married Mary Miller Brown.
He would go on to serve as the Reno County Attorney for four years, winning re-election once. During that time, he prosecuted seven murder cases and enforced the then-existing prohibition laws, even in the face of considerable local opposition. Of note, he never accepted any campaign contributions, as he desired to not be beholden to anyone. To Judge Brown’s best recollection, his total spending for both campaigns for Reno County Attorney, combined, was no more than $300.
With a son, Wesley Miller, and a daughter, Mary Maloy, on the way, Wesley Brown left the Reno County Attorney's office for the allure of private practice. On January 1, 1939, he re-joined the newly-renamed firm, Williams, Martindell, Carey & Brown. With the exception of a stint in the Navy from 1944-1946, he would remain with that same firm for the next 19 years. He represented clients in a variety of areas, including civil disputes, criminal matters, and family law. However, much of his practice was focused on labor relations work, and a long-standing case for the City of Hutchinson on a flood control project.
In 1944, at the age of 37, Wesley Brown enlisted in the Navy to defend the country during World War II. He was a Navy line officer stationed in the Philippines. While serving in the Philippines, he met Delmas Hill, an attorney from the Topeka, Kansas area who had aspirations of a federal judgeship. Judge Brown recalls that it was Hill who made him think seriously for the first time about becoming a federal judge. (Hill himself would be nominated to the Federal District Court shortly after returning from the war). When Wesley Brown was discharged from the Navy, in 1946, he returned to private practice with his old firm.
The Other Side of the Bench
In the spring of 1958, Wesley Brown was approached by Judge Hill about accepting a position as a Referee in Bankruptcy. Ultimately, he accepted the position as suggested by Judge Hill, and became the second Bankruptcy Referee in the state of Kansas.
In 1962, at the age of 54, Judge Wesley Brown was nominated by John F. Kennedy for one of two vacant Federal District Court Judge Positions in Kansas. The nomination received bi-partisan support, and was heard by a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 23, 1962, and approved by the full committee that same day. Only some ten days later, on April 2, 1962, the nomination was confirmed by the Senate. Accepting his new position, Judge Brown made the following comments:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this Honorable Court, My Friends:
I want you all to know that I will do my best to do my duty to God and my Country, to obey the laws, to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and with the help of God do it justly and with great humility.
In addition, to those of you who have had confidence in me, I shall not betray that confidence. And to those who may have some doubt, I accept the challenge. But here with you, my friends, I say here and now in the only way I can pay tribute to you and the faith you have had in me, that I will strive to seek to find the way of justice. This is my pledge for your faith.
Judge Brown heard his first cases on April 13, 1962. Judge Brown prided himself on making quick, but thoughtful decisions, which was a necessary skill because the District of Kansas had, at the time, the highest caseload per judge of any District in the nation.
In 1971, Judge Brown became the Chief Judge for the District of Kansas. This new title added the responsibility of assigning caseloads and administering personnel to his other duties.
In 1979, at the age of 72 Judge Brown’s status as Administrative Judge for the district changed to Senior Status. Notwithstanding this amendment in his career, Judge Brown continued his regular duties with a full caseload schedule. In every sense of the word, Judge Wesley E. Brown was an active and engaging judge who continued to distinguish our federal court as an eminent jurist with the added distinction of being the only sitting federal court judge who was also a centenarian!
To the attorneys, judges, and colleagues who knew him well, Judge Brown epitomized collegiality, integrity, professionalism, and ethics. To honor his distinguished career, and to recognize his dedicated service to the practice of law, by charter of the American Inn of Court, our Wichita chapter is proud to secure his legacy as the Wesley E. Brown Inn of Court.
The information contained in this biography was drawn primarily from Wesley E. Brown, "The Memoirs of the Honorable Wesley E. Brown, Senior United States District Judge," as told to Jon Roe, United States District Court, District of Kansas. The Wesley E. Brown Inn of Court acknowledges with gratitude the efforts of Mr. Roe in preparing the Memoirs, and the courtesy of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas in granting permission to utilize this copyrighted work.