When it comes to continuous active service, United States District Judge Manuel L. “Manny” Real of Los Angeles has no equal in the modern history of the Judicial Branch. On November 3, 2016, Judge Real marked his 50th year on the federal bench, the longest tenure of any active district judge since the 1800s. Colleagues on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California celebrated the milestone with a special sitting and reception at the Spring Street Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
Judge Real’s remarkable judicial career is bound closely to the history of the Central District, which was created in 1966 when Congress established two new judicial districts in California. Nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Judge Real received his judicial commission on November 3, 1966, filling one of three new judgeships authorized to the new court.
Today, Judge Real is one of two surviving members of Central District’s original bench. The other is Ninth Circuit Senior Judge Harry Pregerson.
“I didn’t intend for it to be 50 years and I sure didn’t think it would be 50 years,” Judge Real wryly observed in an interview prior to the anniversary event. “But I think what I’ve done and how I've done it were worthwhile.”
Over the past five decades, Judge Real has been responsible for literally tens of thousands of cases involving all matters of civil and criminal law. In addition to the work of his own court, Judge Real has assisted many other courts in the Ninth Circuit and beyond. His notable cases outside the district included long-running litigation in Hawaii over claims on the fortune of Ferdinand Marcos, the ex-president of the Philippines, and his wife, Imelda.
Judge Real also was the Central District’s longest serving chief judge, leading his court from 1982 to 1993. One of the nation’s first Hispanic federal judges, he was active for many years in international rule-of-law programs, lecturing in Spanish in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay on comparative legal systems.
U.S. District Judge Manuel L. "Manny" Real has the longest tenure of any active district judge since the 1800s.
Although a formidable presence on and off the bench, colleagues describe Judge Real as open, friendly and unfailingly collegial. They make note of his assistance to new judges who are just settling into the job as well as the help offered to more experienced colleagues during times of stress brought on by heavy caseloads or family emergencies.
“I remember being the new kid on the block and not knowing too much,” recalled District Judge George H. King, who came onto the court in 1987 as a magistrate judge. “He really brought me along, helped me understand the art of judging.”
“Behind the scenes, you could not ask any more of a colleague. He is always the first to lend a hand,” said District Judge David O. Carter, who came onto the Central District bench in 1998 and joined Judge Real on several rule-of-law program trips to war-torn Bosnia beginning in 2000.
Born in 1924 in San Pedro, California, near Long Beach, Judge Real received his B.S. in 1944 from the University of Southern California and his LL.B. from Loyola Law School in 1951. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Naval Reserve. His legal career began in 1952 as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, which then included Los Angeles. He was in private practice from 1955 to 1964, when he was appointed the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District.
“I think Chief Judge Emeritus Real is an inspiration to his colleagues not only for his length of service, but for his participation in all facets of court governance and for his many involvements in civic and community affairs,” said Chief District Judge Virginia A. Phillips.
Now 92, Judge Real said he never seriously considered retirement or assuming “senior status,” which would have allowed him to continue to serve the court in a semi-retired role while reducing his caseload.
“I always enjoyed the work I was doing. I didn’t think going senior would have helped or hindered me in any way,” he said. “So I just stayed at what I was doing.”