LOS ANGELES - Senior District Judge Robert J. Kelleher, the oldest- serving federal jurist in the nation and a onetime tennis pro who helped open opportunities for competition in the sport, died today in Los Angeles. He was 99.
Kelleher, whose courtroom was located at the Roybal Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles, was nominated as a U.S. district judge for the Central District of California by then-President Richard M. Nixon, and received his commission in December 1970. He assumed senior status in 1983.
The judge spent more than four decades on the bench. In the Internet age alone, Kelleher presided over cases of import, including his ruling that the online auction site eBay was not liable for copyright infringement because bootleg copies of films were being sold on the site. He also ruled that web suffixes -- such as .com and .net -- cannot be trademarked.
Chief Judge Audrey B. Collins described Kelleher as a fine jurist who contributed to the "life and history of the court" and continued to handle cases well into his 90s.
"His institutional memory of events often contributed greatly to the administration of the court," she said. "It was a privilege to hear Judge Kelleher recount the history of this court, his experiences during World War II, and how he helped to bring tennis into the modern era. Although Judge Kelleher had been ill for some time, he was a fighter until the end, enjoying life and loving his family and this court."
Kelleher is equally known for his contributions to tennis. Winning a string of awards and trophies starting in the 1930s, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000 and is remembered for helping pave the way for "open tennis," in which professional tennis athletes could compete against each other for the first time.
Later, Kelleher initiated and lobbied for the inclusion of legitimate prize money for open tennis events.
Beginning his tennis career as a ball boy at Forest Hills, he won the Canadian mixed doubles championship in 1947 with his wife Gracyn Wheeler Kelleher, who predeceased him in 1980, and was the non-playing captain of the triumphant 1963 U.S. Davis Cup team.
He also served as president of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, now known as the U.S. Tennis Association, from 1967 to 1968. As the USLTA's principal delegate to the International Lawn Tennis Federation, he was instrumental in making open tennis a reality in 1968.
In later years he continued to be an ardent supporter of the sport, serving as president and on the board of directors of the Southern California Tennis Association and remaining involved with the national organization.
Kelleher graduated in 1938 from Harvard Law School and earned his undergraduate degree in 1935 from Williams College.
After law school, he was a corporate trial attorney in New York City, then served as an associate attorney with the U.S. Department of the Army in Los Angeles from 1941 to 1942.
After serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1945, Kelleher was in private practice before returning to public service in 1948, working as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California until 1951.
He returned to private practice in 1951, based in Beverly Hills, until his appointment to the federal bench.
Survivors include son R. Jeffrey Kelleher, daughter Karen Kathleen Kelleher, and grandchildren Catherine Kelleher Kay, Robert Vincent Kelleher and Sarah Donovan King.
Arrangements for a memorial service were pending.