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Detroit — At the federal courthouse, people have wondered for years when Judge Avern Cohn would finally ease up. With 40 years, two months and two weeks behind him on the bench, there's finally an answer: Now.

Cohn, 95, confirmed through a court spokesman Tuesday that he is reducing his caseload.

"Judge Cohn is in his mid-90s and has been carrying a full caseload for all these years,"  public information officer David Ashenfelter said. "He has decided that it's time to cut back."

An administrative order from Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood informed staffers Monday that Cohn's criminal cases were being reassigned. He remains on the docket for civil cases.

Appointed in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, Cohn assumed senior status in October 1999. While that typically means part-time duty, nothing changed for Cohn except his title.

Known both for his intellect and his temper, he could still be withering with attorneys. More recently, he told The Detroit News in July, "I've cooled down. Age. But every so often, I get impatient."

A native Detroiter and the son of a lawyer, Cohn served in the Army during World War II. The Army had started him in medical school and he kept at it briefly after his discharge in 1946, then switched tracks.

As a lawyer, he represented looters for free after the 1967 uprising and later served as a Detroit police commissioner. As a judge, he struck down the University of Michigan's anti-hate-speech code as overbroad and presided over the case of former Detroit City Council President Monica Conyers, who drew 37 months for taking bribes.

At a courthouse celebration of his 95th birthday in July, colleagues noted his relentless curiosity and rabid reading habit, which includes six newspapers a day.

Physically diminished — he uses a walker, and hires a driver to take him to and from work — he fell in his dressing room at the courthouse a few days after the party and looked as though he'd been in a brawl.

Courthouse insiders report that he has had good days and bad days since, but he has reported to work faithfully. His office and staff are budgeted through the end of the fiscal year in September.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn

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