LINCOLN — U.S. Senior District Judge Warren Urbom has announced plans to end more than four decades on the federal bench in April.
He will be 88 by then. Urbom has been on senior judge status, taking only a limited number of cases, since 1991.
In a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Urbom said he is targeting April 25 as the date of his retirement. That would be 44 years to the day from when he became a judge.
He was appointed to the bench by former President Richard Nixon in 1970.
“My term has been one of thorough happiness, as described in my writing of the book, 'Called to Justice,' published in October 2012,” Urbom said.
His memoir details a life that began on a small farm in central Nebraska and led to the longest tenure on the federal bench of any U.S. district judge in Nebraska history.
His career included presiding over a string of trials arising from the armed occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D., by members of the American Indian Movement.
The trials have been termed among the most significant of the 20th century.
Bob Kerrey, a former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator, said of Urbom: “No one has sat for more important trials than Judge Warren Urbom. And no one has meted out justice with more wisdom, wit and seriousness of purpose.”
William Webster, former director of the FBI and CIA, called him “one of America's finest federal jurists.”
“The judiciary will be diminished” without Urbom on the bench, said State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who has a law degree and has spent more than 30 years on the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. “He was an excellent judge.”
Urbom was a 44-year-old Lincoln trial lawyer when he was appointed to the federal bench.
He was the chief judge for the District of Nebraska from 1972 through 1986.
Along with serving as a judge, he taught trial advocacy at the University of Nebraska College of Law for 11 years.
Sen. Mike Johanns offered well wishes to Urbom in retirement. Urbom “has been a student of the law for more than 60 years, spending half his life dispensing it from the bench in Lincoln,” he said.
“Nebraska and our nation owe Judge Urbom a debt of gratitude for his public service,” said Sen. Deb Fischer.
Lincoln attorney Jim Hewitt, in reviewing Urbom's book, described him as “a splendid trial lawyer” and “a splendid judge.”
“Observers are aware of his intelligence, his patience, his character, his strong Christian faith, his capacity for long and focused effort, his dignity,” Hewitt said.
A native of Atlanta, Neb., Urbom grew up in Arapahoe, Neb. He served in the Army during the later years of WWII.
After the war, he got a bachelor's degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln. He briefly considered entering the ministry but went on to earn a law degree from the University of Michigan instead.
He and his late wife, Joyce, have four children.