Judge Avern Cohn leaving federal bench at age 95

The Detroit News

Detroit — After four decades behind the bench and at age 95, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn is calling it a career.

"It is time to pass on my responsibilities to others," Cohn said in a statement released by the court Friday. "Most judicial systems have a mandatory retirement age. While I don't believe in mandatory retirement, there comes a time in the course of one's work that they retire and let their work be borne by younger persons."

U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn

According to the federal court, nearly two dozen of his criminal cases were reassigned on a blind draw to other judges last week. The remainder of his criminal and civil dockets will be reassigned the same way in coming days. 

"Judge Cohn is a valued, valuable and beloved member of our bench, a mentor and friend to me and others," U.S. District Chief Judge Denise Page Hood said in a statement. "I hold him in the highest regard." 

Cohn was born in Detroit. His mother, Sadie, was a homemaker, and his dad, Irwin, eventually became the fourth name on the door at Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn.

Cohn enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1942, just in time to have his academic career waylaid by World War II. The Army sent him to engineering school, abandoned the program and redirected him to pre-med classes.

Discharged in 1946, he gave medicine six more weeks, then enrolled in law school.

Earlier in his career practicing law, Cohn represented looters for free after the 1967 uprising in Detroit. He also served as a Detroit police commissioner when that meant working to integrate the force and had his name taken in vain in an Elmore Leonard novel.

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.

 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.

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