LINCOLN, Neb. | A federal judge in Nebraska has announced he plans to retire after a 44-year career that included handling the American Indian activists charged in the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
Senior U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom said Thursday that he sent a letter to President Barack Obama, saying he would step down from the bench in April.
"My term has been one of thorough happiness," Urbom told the president, according to the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/178eZMh).
Urbom spent 17 years as a criminal and civil lawyer in Lincoln before being named to the federal bench in 1970 by then-President Richard Nixon. Four years later came one of Urbom's major cases: the 1974 trials of American Indian activists charged for their involvement in the fatal occupation of Wounded Knee, a village on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Members and supporters of the American Indian Movement held federal agents at bay for 71 days during the occupation. Two of the activists were killed and two government agents wounded.
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Urbom presided over all of the trials because facts of the individual cases were similar. The trials began in Sioux Falls, S.D., but they were later moved to Lincoln.
He eventually dismissed charges against about 100 of the activists for lack of evidence. Urbom found six of the 49 remaining defendants guilty, but an appeals court later overturned convictions of four.
The judge had a personal brush with the criminal justice system when, in 2006, he was cited by police for misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide after his vehicle hit and killed a 74-year-old motorcyclist while trying to make a left turn in Lincoln. Urbom eventually did community service as part of his punishment.
A few years ago Urbom cut back his work schedule to three or four days a week. But now, he said, it's time to hang up his robe for good.
"I'm getting old. It has to come sometime," Urbom said. During retirement, he added, "I have no thoughts in mind of what to do other than have a good time."