How I spent my senior status

Note: Judge Silverman is a long-time friend of Gordy Griller, NAPCO’s Executive Director. He recently became semi-retired as a federal judge and has a reduced caseload. With the growing number of Baby Boomers leaving full-time work in key state and federal judicial and administrative posts, Judge Silverman’s advice, written for a recent federal judicial newsletter, is welcome counsel for many of us.

I was appointed to a state judicial position – Maricopa County AZ Superior Court Commissioner – in 1979, when I was 28, and have been a judicial officer of one stripe or another (Superior Court judge, federal magistrate judge, 9th Circuit judge) ever since. That’s 40 years on the bench.

I’ve loved every minute of it (not counting court meetings), but when I became eligible for senior status in 2016, I decided I did not want to waste that unique opportunity. I don’t know of any other job, in or out of government, that allows a person to decide for himself how much he or she wants to continue to work, to draw full pay no matter what, to stay connected to colleagues and professional goings-on – and to still have plenty of time to pursue other interests.

When my senior status kicked in, I immediately started looking for classes to take. I’m not talking about classes like “New Developments in Perfecting Security Interests under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code.” I’m talking about classes in music, literature, science, current events – things that have always interested me but I didn’t have time to seriously pursue as an active circuit judge.

The first thing I did was sign up for some classes offered by a company called The Great Courses. These are real semester-long university-level courses taught by acclaimed college professors. They are not dumbed down (at least not by my standards) and they have the dual advantages of being fascinating but without exams at the end.

I’ve taken several of these. My favorites were “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” taught by Professor Robert Greenberg, and “The Science of Flight” by Professor James W. Gregory.

A former law clerk of mine, who had majored in music at a famous music conservatory, told me that the Greenberg course was very similar to the History of Western Music class all freshmen at his music school were required to take.

The Science of Flight course was very good, too. There was a lot about the history of aviation, mixed in with some heavy-duty physics. I struggled with some of the math and science, but when it became too much for me, I’d simply put the video on pause, reread the well-written course guidebook covering that point, and then grab another cocktail.

I have Cathy Catterson, our much beloved recently retired Circuit Executive, to thank for introducing me to OLLI – the Osher Life Learning Institute. She told me about an OLLI class she was taking at UC Berkeley on Bruce Springsteen. The Bernard Osher Foundation, based in San Francisco, helps underwrite continuing education classes for adults over 50 at colleges and universities around the country. There are OLLI classes at the UC and Cal State schools, the University of Washington, the University of Oregon, University of Nevada, University of Alaska, Boise State University, University of Montana, University of Hawaii, University of Arizona, Arizona State University (my school), and many others – 124 in all.

I’ve taken OLLI classes through ASU on such eclectic topics as forensic botany, the drummers of the great bands, contemporary Cuba, contemporary Eastern Europe, nudity and sexuality in art, and even a fascinating class on the parsonage exemption in the Internal Revenue Code taught by a very witty and knowledgeable law school professor. It’s amazing how interesting these courses can be when you don’t have to worry about whether something is going to be on the final. There are no tests, required reading, term papers, or homework.

Depending on the number of sessions, the cost ranges from $14 to $56 per course. It’s also fun to be back on a college campus again. It brings back lots of pleasant memories, although I was surprised to see how much older my classmates look now than they did in the ’60s. Then again, we’re all over 50. Some of us well over.

If you’re looking for a way to keep the old noodle working, to examine subjects that may have always interested you, but you never had the time to explore, or to just learn something new, I recommend these continuing education programs, and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do.