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Mass. Chief Federal Judge To Take Senior Status

The chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts has decided to become a senior judge next year, creating a vacancy that will give the district court a new, additional judge.

Mark Wolf informed President Obama of his decision Tuesday. Wolf said he will continue to provide "substantial service," though senior judges are eligible to have a lighter caseload.

"I will continue to be a presence, and perhaps a fixture, although I don't want to ossify in this place," Wolf said.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf. (U.S. District Court-Boston/AP)
U.S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf. (U.S. District Court-Boston/AP)

Wolf was nominated to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1985. His seven-year term as chief judge ends on Dec. 31. Wolf said he will be 66 by Jan. 1, when he will begin his status as a senior judge.

Under federal law, a judge who is at least 65 and has served for at least 15 years may continue in regular active service, become a senior judge or retire and receive as an annuity his last salary for the rest of his or her life.

Wolf recently issued a landmark ruling, ordering the state Department of Correction to provide sex-reassignment surgery for a convicted murderer. He also presided over the 2011 corruption trial of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.

In the late 1990s, Wolf held hearings that exposed the FBI's relationship with two previously secret informants — James “Whitey” Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Wolf concluded that dozens of federal authorities "engaged in various forms of misconduct" in how they handled Bulger and Flemmi.

After Bulger's arrest in 2011, Wolf granted the prosecution's request to drop racketeering charges brought against Bulger in 1995. That move ensured that Bulger's trial on 19 murder charges would be heard in a different courtroom under Judge Richard Stearns.

Judge Patti Saris will become chief judge when Wolf's term ends. Edward Harrington and Michael Ponsor currently serve as senior judges of the court.

With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom

This program aired on October 16, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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