U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer retires at 90

2013-06-27T16:50:00Z 2013-06-28T17:04:42Z U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer retires at 90The Associated Press The Associated Press
June 27, 2013 4:50 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — U.S. District Judge Clarence A. Brimmer of Cheyenne, the grand old man of the Wyoming legal system, finally has retired.

Brimmer, who turns 91 next month, was appointed to the court by then-President Gerald R. Ford in 1975. He went on senior status in 2006 but has continued to hear cases until earlier this month, when he hung up his robe for the last time, ending more than 38 years on the bench.

Brimmer's judgeship capped a legal career that also included stints as Wyoming attorney general and U.S. Attorney for Wyoming.

"What's kept me going was the good Lord's gift of life," Brimmer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview this week from Jackson, where he's spending the summer.

"But of course, the other thing was that I liked the work," Brimmer said. "I have always felt as though I was making a difference on the bench, and I liked continuing that work. And so, I finally ended it a couple of weeks ago because I've felt that it was time to go."

U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal, wife of former Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, took office as a judge in Cheyenne after Brimmer went on senior status.

Brimmer and his late wife Emily had four children. One of their sons, Phil Brimmer, is himself a federal judge in Colorado.

The elder Judge Brimmer said the most important case he handled was a sprawling civil lawsuit in the mid-1990s against manufacturer Copley Pharmaceutical, Inc. over contamination of Albuterol inhalers.

After 43 days of trial and about a week before the case was set to go to the jury, Brimmer said, the parties reached a settlement that called for the company to pay up to $150 million to the plaintiffs in several states.

"In terms of its effect on people throughout the country, and in terms of setting a precedent, this was never really noted as an unusual case, but it was the first multi-district case of this nature that ever went to trial," Brimmer said.

Brimmer was back in the national spotlight again in 2003 when he issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the U.S. Forest Service from implementing the roadless rule. The rule, enacted the last weeks of the Clinton Administration in 2001, had sought to ban road construction and logging in nearly 60 million acres of federal land, mainly in the West.

In his second opinion on the roadless rule in 2008, Brimmer accused the Forest Service of "flagrantly and cavalierly railroad(ing) this country's present environmental laws in an attempt to build an outgoing President's enduring fame."

Brimmer said this week that he's always been, "pro-western."

"I know that in my career, I have decided cases for the West," Brimmer said. "And that's because I've always felt that this area needed help in representation, that just two senators and a congressman only, couldn't do it all. And so I've pitched in too."

Also in 2008, Brimmer ordered a new trial for prison inmate James Harlow, who had been on death row on a conviction of murdering a Wyoming State Penitentiary officer in 1997.

In setting aside Harlow's death sentence, Brimmer agreed that Harlow had been denied a fair trial in state court because his trial lawyer, who worked for the Wyoming Public Defenders Office, had been made to fear he would be fired for doing his job and insisting on more state resources.

In addition to handling cases, Brimmer's legal career has given him a ringside seat on Wyoming politics. Among his close friends was Sen. Clifford Hansen, Gov. Matt Mead's late grandfather.

Brimmer said Hansen once mentioned to him over dinner in Jackson that Mead was then toiling as an assistant county attorney in Campbell County.

"Matt was kind of far from the action," Brimmer said. He said he volunteered to put in a good word for Mead to the current U.S. Attorney, "and see if he's not interested in him. And lo, he was, and that's what got things started."

After being hired as an assistant U.S. attorney, Mead went on to serve as U.S. Attorney for Wyoming before being elected governor.

Brimmer has raised orchids for 45 years. "You know that's a good thing to do because it keeps you away from pool halls and bars, and other things like that," he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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