December 2017

Judge G. Thomas Eisele: In Memoriam

U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele of the Eastern District of Arkansas passed away on November 26, 2017, at the age of 94. Eastern District of Arkansas Judge Billy Roy Wilson called Eisele his “judicial hero,” and Judge Stephen M. Reasoner, also of the Eastern District, described him as “the true standard of what a United States District Judge should be.”
Garnett Thomas Eisele was born on November 3, 1923, and grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He left college after one year to enlist in the Army when America entered World War II in 1942. After the war, he completed his undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis in 1947 and then attended Harvard Law School, where he graduated with his Bachelor of Laws in 1950 and his Master of Laws in 1951.
He entered private practice in Hot Springs in 1951 with the law firm of Martin, Wootton and Martin, founded by his grandfather. He moved to Little Rock in 1953 to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney for two years before joining the firm Owens, McHaney, Lofton and McHaney. In 1960 he opened his own law office and practiced solo until his appointment to the federal bench.
President Nixon appointed Thomas Eisele as a United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas in 1970. He served as Chief Judge from 1975 to 1991, when he assumed senior status. He continued to carry a reduced caseload until shortly after his 41st anniversary of the federal bench in September 2011, giving him the distinction, which he still holds, as the longest serving federal district judge in Arkansas. Judge Eisele continued to be a “regular presence” in the Little Rock courthouse, where he retained an office, until at least 2014, assisting with administrative duties.
He was a member of international, national, state, and local bar and professional associations and organizations and served on the Federal Judges Association’s Board of Directors; the National Conference of Federal Trial Judges’ Executive Committee; and the Judicial Conference of the United States’ Ad Hoc Committee on Bankruptcy Legislation, Committee on Administration of Bankruptcy System, and Committee on Administration of the Federal Magistrate System.
Judge Eisele is heralded by many as a man of integrity, raw intelligence, courtesy, courage, vision, and complete fairness. He was an early critic of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and declared them unconstitutional in 1988 and 1990 opinions. His reasoning in 1990 was quite similar to that in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 Booker decision. He advocated for the jury system by opposing mandatory court-annexed arbitration and applied civil rights law to racial profiling claims.
The Eastern District of Arkansas dedicated Courtroom 530, where Judge Eisele presided for 29 of his then 34 years on the bench, as the G. Thomas Eisele Courtroom in 2004. Upon “adjourning” his judicial responsibilities in 2011, his law clerks prepared a DVD in tribute to his judicial legacy, featuring four select cases, and in 2014, they established the G. Thomas Eisele Endowment for the Study of History of the United States Federal Court in Arkansas at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.