Articles & News 2004

From the October 15, 2004 edition of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette:

Judge Muir: A 'living legend'

By R.A. WALKER, Sun-Gazette Staff

Muir on trialA special jury came back with a verdict Thursday making official what many people already knew about U.S. District Senior Judge Malcolm Muir.

He’s a “living legend” — a “a brilliant ... very disciplined” jurist, according to U.S. District Senior Judge William Nealon of Scranton, and also a one-of-a-kind personality.

Muir will turn 90 next Wednesday and in the process become the first Middle District judge to serve to that age.

Thursday, a combination mock trial and roast was held as a birthday surprise for Muir, who was appointed to the bench more than three decades ago by President Richard M. Nixon.

The event was orchestrated by the judge’s long-time secretary Sharyn Eckman and city attorney Clifford A. Rieders.

The veteran judge entered expecting a rather routine court proceeding but instead heard a chorus of “happy birthday” greetings from a courtroom packed by more than 100 friends, peers and court employees.

The mock trial that followed offered up a series of witnesses alleging to have proof that Muir was a true legend.

Nealon presided with Rieders serving as prosecutor and Lewisburg attorney Terry Light as Muir’s defense attorney.

Light’s only defense was to say he had no defense to counter the witnesses allegations,

Witnesses included two of Muir’s former law clerks, city attorney Jack Humphrey and federal public defender D. Toni Byrd, Eckman and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick Martin.

Their testimony focused on Muir’s inspired eccentricities and sharp mind and offered proof of his remarkable memory; his obsession with exactness coupled with a unique sense of humor.

There were tales about his complicated but functional self- invented mathematical formulas and organizational indexing skills.

Humphrey spoke of the judge’s “amazing” ability to memorize “virtually everyone’s name that he meets,” including the names of all jurors during his trials.

Byrd highlighted the judge’s fondness for precision, illustrating the point with tales of his ability to take any date and determine the day of the week on which that date will fall.

She also explained “The System,” by which Muir has organized everything in his home and allowing him to find everything he has in storage in his attic or desk drawers within a matter of minutes.

According to Byrd, devising and using “The System alone” is enough to qualify Muir as a legend.

Eckman took this issue further, explaining the judge’s personal office “tickler” indexing system which uses a system of cards containing information important to the judge and identified by date, month and year to help him keep pace with his busy court agenda as well as personal appointments and chores.

The “tickler” files fill a drawer in the judge’s desk and when Eckman began working for Muir in 1968 went up to 1999, she said.

Martin introduced a series of quotes from appeal court decisions relating to cases handled by Muir and peppered with his judicial thoroughness, “well- reasoned judgment” and “exceptional legal mind.”

The instantaneous verdict came from a jury that included lawyers, a retired judge and court employees with Geoffrey Ayers, one of Muir’s current law clerks, serving as foreman.

U.S. Middle District Court Chief Judge Thomas Vanaskie then came forward with a wooden box containing a birth day gift for Muir -- a sextant. Muir stood to acknowledge the tribute and gift, saying he was “particularly pleased by the sextant.”

He had never owned his own sextant, he explained, despite having taught himself celestial navigation while serving at sea during World War II.  After the proceeding, Muir admitted he was completely surprised” by what he found in his courtroom.      

As Muir entered the courtroom, Nealon made a joking reference to Muir’s habit of  starting court proceedings promptly at the time they are scheduled.

“Let the record snow a Judge Muir was one minute and 20 seconds late,” he stated.

For the record, that’s some thing that almost never happens in a real Muir court proceeding.