John T. Elfvin

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John Thomas Elfvin (June 30, 1917 – January 6, 2009) was an American lawyer and jurist who served as a Federal judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. Elfvin became a federal judge following his nomination to the court by President Gerald Ford in 1974. He assumed senior judge status in 1987.


Early life[edit]

Born in Montour Falls, New York, Elfvin received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1942 and was a member of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity there. He earned his Juris Doctor degree in 1947 from the Georgetown University Law School following service in the U.S. Navy as an electrical engineer in the Bureau of Ships during World War II, from 1943 to 1946.


Elfvin clerked for E. Barrett Prettyman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1947–48). After private practice in New York City at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and for several firms in Buffalo, New York, he served three years as assistant U.S. Attorney from 1955-58. He returned to private practice in Buffalo from 1958-1969 during which time he was a member of the Board of Supervisors for Erie County, a member of the Buffalo Common Council. He served as the Minority Leader in 1966. Elfvin served one year on the Supreme Court of New York in 1969 and returned to private practice before becoming US Attorney for the Western District of New York in 1972.

Federal judicial service[edit]

On December 9, 1974, Elfvin was nominated by President Gerald Ford to a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of New York vacated by John O. Henderson.[1] Elfvin was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 20, 1974, and received his commission the following day.

Elfvin's independence sometimes caused controversy. He was admonished by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals for a failure to follow remand instructions, the latest instance being in United States v. Benjamin (05-3677-cr), about which the court stated, "This is, therefore, the third case in two years, in which Judge Elfvin failed in the initial sentencing proceeding to comply with the requirements of notice and explanation for the imposition of a non-Guidelines sentence and then, on remand, failed to follow a direction of this court to comply with those requirements. This pattern of behavior is disturbing evidence of willfulness. The need to remove Judge Elfvin from this case being self-evident, we order reassignment to a different Judge". However, the United States Supreme Court, in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), ultimately agreed with Elfvin, without citing the Benjamin case, in determining that the United States Sentencing Guidelines are not mandatory.

Elfvin assumed senior status on July 1, 1987, and retired from the federal bench entirely, after nearly 33 years of service, on October 5, 2007. In 2005 he received the prestigious Outstanding Jurist award of the Bar Association of Erie County for his contributions to the administration of justice. He was a favorite of trial lawyers, described as a "trial lawyers' judge" based on his excellent judicial temperament, work ethic, attention to detail and knowledge of the law.


Elfvin died January 6, 2009 at a Lancaster, New York nursing home. He was survived by his wife (since 1960), the former Peggy Pierce, who died in 2012.


Legal offices
Preceded by
John Oliver Henderson
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York
Succeeded by
Richard Joseph Arcara