Called to Justice: The Life of a Federal Trial Judge

Called to Justice: The Life of a Federal Trial Judge

Called to Justice: The Life of a Federal Trial Judge

Called to Justice: The Life of a Federal Trial Judge


Early in his judicial career, U.S. District Judge Warren K. Urbom was assigned a yearlong string of criminal trials arising from a seventy-one-day armed standoff between the American Indian Movement and federal law enforcement at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. In Called to Justice Urbom provides the first behind-the-scenes look at what quickly became one of the most significant series of federal trials of the twentieth century. Yet Wounded Knee was only one set of monumental cases Urbom presided over during his years on the bench, a set that in turn forms but one chapter in a remarkable life story.

Urbom's memoir begins on a small farm in Nebraska during the dustbowl 1930s. From making it through the Great Depression and drought to serving in World War II, working summers for his father's dirt-moving business, and going to school on the G.I. Bill, Urbom's experiences constitute a classic American story of making the most of opportunity, inspiration, and a little luck. Urbom gives a candid account of his time as a trial lawyer and his early plans to become a minister- and of the effect both had on his judicial career. His story offers a rare inside view of what it means to be a federal judge- the nuts and bolts of conducting trials, weighing evidence, and making decisions- but also considers the questions of law and morality, all within the framework of a life well lived and richly recounted.


This memoir recounts the life of an extraordinary federal trial judge and a most remarkable human being. Judge Warren Urbom weaves a rich tapestry on life, lawyering, and judging, covering subjects common and not so common. We learn about Warren Urbom’s humble, rural upbringing in western Kansas and southwest Nebraska, the loss of one of his eyes at the hands of his older brother, and young Warren’s path to a Methodist ministry detoured to a professional life in the ministry of justice. We then witness Warren Urbom emerge as an exemplary trial lawyer and jurist. Judge Urbom also shares his personal recollections on the emotional trauma of his involvement in a fatal car accident and the later loss of his beloved wife, Joyce, to cancer.

As a trial lawyer and judge, Warren Urbom encountered the challenges and surprises arising from the drama of human affairs presented in an American federal courtroom. As a judge, he applied the law when required and common sense when discretion was appropriate. His judicial career addressed issues both great and small. Judge Urbom applied his wisdom and creativity in important cases involving civil rights, women’s equality, freedom of religion versus government regulation, criminal sentencing, rico, and life-and-death issues, including the death penalty and abortion. and he applied the law with the same dedication, fairness, and respect in cases involving long hair and potato chips as he did in the nationally famous Wounded Knee trials.

It is during the historic Wounded Knee litigation when one of Urbom’s hallmarks was on display: his judicial temperament. Judge Urbom will tell . . .

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