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Judge Robert Kelleher, Oldest-Serving Federal Judge, Dies at 99

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 21, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Flags outside the courthouses of the United States District Court for the Central District of California will be flown at half staff in honor of Senior District Judge Robert J. Kelleher, who passed yesterday at the age of 99. Judge Kelleher was the oldest-serving federal judge, The Associated Press reports.

District Court Chief Judge Audrey B. Collins described Judge Kelleher as “a great judge,” “a dear friend,” and “a fighter until the end, enjoying life and loving his family and this court.”

Judge Kelleher, originally from New York, graduated from Williams College (BA, 1935) and Harvard Law School (JD, 1938).

After law school, he began his legal career as a corporate trial attorney in New York City, then served as an associate attorney for the Army in Los Angeles from 1941 to 1942. After serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1945, Judge Kelleher worked in private practice before returning to public service in 1948, serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California until 1951. He returned to private practice in 1951, and practiced in Beverly Hills until Richard Nixon appointed him to the bench in 1970.

Though Judge Kelleher assumed senior status in 1983, he continued to handle cases well into his 90s.

Judge Kelleher not only left his mark on the judicial world, but on the sports community, too. Kelleher captained the winning 1963 U.S. Davis Cup team, and he and his late wife, Gracyn Wheeler Kelleher, won the mixed doubles championship in 1947, according to the AP.

Judge Kelleher was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000. The Hall of Fame credits Kelleher, along with Herman David and Derek Hardwick, as bring instrumental in making "Open Tennis" a reality in 1968. (The Open Tennis system allows professionals to compete with amateurs.)

In lieu of funeral services, arrangements for a memorial service are pending.

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