Another open line marked by news of the passing of a public figure. Retired federal District Judge G. Thomas Eisele died today at 94. He served actively on the federal bench in Little Rock for 41 years, cintinuing to take cases after assuming senior status in 1991.

I can’t write dispassionately about Judge Eisele. I met my future wife when she was one of his law clerks in 1973. His law clerks became family. They gathered for years for Judge’s nogg at Christmas gatherings at his home. He contributed to their career advancement with advice and support.

Tom Eisele landed his judgeship as all do, by politics. He’d been legal counsel to Winthrop Rockefeller in his rise to be a Republican governor of Arkansas and Rockefeller advocated his appointment by President Richard Nixon to fill a vacancy in 1970. Judge Eisele was a Republican, but of the Rockefeller stripe.

He issued important decisions over the years on the environment, the death penalty, racial discrimination and more. Much of this was in the days when federal district courts were often constitutional battlegrounds for issues where justice was in short supply in state courts. He was intelligent, studious and fair. And make no mistake, he was a Republican. It was a tearful day for him the day Richard Nixon resigned, if not necessarily for some of his law clerks, who seemed often to come from the Democratic end of the political spectrum.

He was chief judge of the Eastern District for 16 years from 1975 to 1991. In 1997, as a senior judge, he made headlines for writing an opinion that said Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr might have a conflict of interest in investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton. He noted that Starr had lined up a job at a law school financed by one of the Clintons’ pursuers, Richard Mellon Scaife. A Hot Springs native and World War II veteran, he came back to Arkansas after Harvard Law School and spent time in both private practice and as an assistant U.S. attorney.

My wife and another former clerk, Edie Ervin, put together a video tribute to Judge Eisele a few years ago. Fans of his might appreciate this excerpt from it, about his handling of a case over racial profiling of Hispanics.