Admirers Salute Detroit Federal Judge Avern Cohn's 95th Birthday

July 23, 2019, 4:42 PM by  Allan Lengel

U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn celebrates his 95th birthday in his courtroom.

Update, 4:33 p.m. Tuesday: Lawyers, former law clerks, fellow judges, politicians, family and many others packed the courtroom in downtown Detroit to celebrate the 95th birthday of U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn.

Notables included former Sen. Carl Levin and his brother, former U.S. Rep. Sander Levin and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan whose father was a federal judge in the courthouse. 

Fellow judges spoke during the ceremony, applauding Cohn as an influential mentor who made them better judges. 

Original article, Monday:

Over the many decades on the federal bench -- he's been there since 1979 -- U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn has remained one of the sharper legal minds in the courthouse on Lafayette Boulevard in downtown Detroit.

On Tuesday, he'll celebrate his 95th birthday in his courtroom. 

"My philosophy is about candor," U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider tells Neal Rubin of The Detroit News.  "Judge Cohn's philosophy is about candor. He calls it the way he sees it, and we need more of that in this world."

Cohn may not move about as quickly as he once did, but he still packs all the requisites necessary to

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan spoke. Duggan's father was a federal judge in the courthouse.

command a courtroom and carries a full caseload.

"He's brilliant," former federal Judge Jerry Rosen tells Rubin. "He's an icon and a legend. And a force of nature."

'Keep cool'

Rubin writes: 

A medical school dropout, as he likes to put it, Cohn is legendary for his blasts of temper, but also renowned for his ability and his intelligence.

He represented looters for free after the 1967 uprising, served as a Detroit police commissioner when that meant working to integrate the force, had his name taken in vain in an Elmore Leonard novel, and keeps quasi-effective hand-written reminders taped to the low ledge that stands between his stern gaze and a parade of nervous attorneys:

"Keep cool!!!"

"He who angers you controls you."

"No matter how high the throne, there sits but an ass!"

Cohn is a voracious reader of newspapers both online and in print. And while he's no softie, he's regarded as a compassionate sentencer. 

Over the years, he's presided over some very high-profile cases including the public corruption trial of former 36th District Court Judge Leon Jenkins and the lawsuit involving the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. 

His court biography notes:

He attended the University of Michigan, John Tarleton Agricultural College, Stanford University, and Loyola School of Medicine. He served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946. He received his JD from the University of Michigan Law School in 1949. He was admitted to the Michigan State Bar in December, 1949.

Judge Cohn engaged in private practice in the Law Office of Irwin I. Cohn from 1949 to 1961; and at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn from 1961 to 1979. Judge Cohn held the following public positions: Michigan Social Welfare Commission, 1963; Michigan Civil Rights Commission, 1972-1975 and served as Chair 1974-1975; Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, 1975-1979 and served as Chair 1979.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the federal bench. 

Read more:  Deadline Detroiit

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Potd_img_2111_444 A fun futuristic mural in Eastern Market by Nick Pizana, from the 2019 Murals in Market festival.

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