The Judge Shapiro I Knew

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As I mourn the loss of Judge Shapiro, I remain unsettled by the Inquirer’s obituary. http://www.philly.com/inquirer/obituaries/20160723_U_S__District_Senior_Judge_Norma_Shapiro__87.html. Because the obituary did not do justice to the Judge who fought so hard for justice, I wrote my own blog about her.

The Inquirer article focused heavily on the ‘famous’ prison overcrowding case. The complexities of the case go beyond a short blog. However, one critical point does need to be made.

Judge Shapiro never set a cap on the number of prisoners as the article suggests. Rather, she simply enforced a settlement agreement that had been reached between the City and the plaintiff class.

While active, the case was highly politicized. Inconvenient facts were ignored by those who focused on the political and not the legal.

Sadly, that happened even on the day of the Judge’s death, when former District Attorney Lynne Abraham said disparaging and untrue comments about the Judge and the case. To be blunt: Ms. Abraham’s comments said nothing about the Judge and everything about her.

I am not a mere bystander. I knew Judge Shapiro well because I had the honor to clerk for her in 1985-1986.

The Judge had a brilliant mind and steely work ethic. As important, her dedication to the rule of law was unwavering, even when mercilessly and unjustly attacked.

A trailblazer, Judge Shapiro had to confront gender bias and much of it was not subtle. But she never complained about it and talked about it only in terms of finding solutions.

The Judge did not let gender bias stop her or define her. She simply crushed it.

As most know, the Judge was the first woman to be appointed as a judge in the Third Circuit. She was a first second to none.

So many women understandably speak of the Judge as a role model. I want to say, as a man, she was a role model for me, too. How lucky I was, as a man, for my first mentor to be such a remarkable woman.

Her brilliance and strength were matched only by her kindness and warmth. To her clerks, she remained a lifelong source of wisdom, encouragement and friendship. We were part of her “judicial family.”

But nothing was more important to the Judge than her real family. She was a beloved grandmother, mother, mother-in-law, sister, wife and daughter.

At the Shiva for the Judge, I had the opportunity to hear her family, particularly her grandchildren, talk about the Judge with such love. She played an integral part in each of their lives. She adored them and they her.

Yes, she was an extraordinary judge. But she also was an extraordinary person devoted to her family and friends.

She asked for very little. She gave so generously of herself.

In Hebrew, there is an expression, Eshet Chayil. It mean a “woman of valor.” The Judge was a woman of valor in every aspect of her life.

May her memory be a blessing to those whose lives she touched. It will be for me.

For those who are interested in learning more about the Judge’s extraordinary accomplishment and her perspective on judging and life, I call your attention to an incredible interview with the Judge by one of Philadelphia’s most accomplished and respected attorneys, Roberta Liebenberg: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/directories/women_trailblazers/shapiro_interview_1.authcheckdam.pdf

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