Richard P. Con­aboy, se­nior U.S. dis­trict judge, dead at 93

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - LOCAL / REGION - BY TER­RIE MORGANBESECKER STAFF WRiTER Con­tact the writer: tbesecker@timessham­rock.com; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseck­erTT on Twit­ter

‘Judge Con­aboy was an as­tute ju­rist and the consummate gen­tle­man, who made many, ex­tra­or­di­nary con­tri­bu­tions to our court and to our coun­try.’ Christo­pher C. Con­ner chief judge, U.S. dis­trict court, Mid­dle dis­trict of Penn­syl­va­nia

Se­nior U.S. Dis­trict Judge Richard P. Con­aboy, known for his com­pas­sion, hu­mil­ity and ded­i­ca­tion to his fam­ily and the law, died Fri­day morn­ing at Re­gional Hospi­tal of Scranton sur­rounded by his ex­tended fam­ily. He was 93.

The judge passed away peace­fully at 7:30 a.m. with his wife of 68 years, Mar­ion, 92, hold­ing his hand, ac­cord­ing to his son, Bill Con­aboy Sr. He had been hos­pi­tal­ized on life sup­port since last Satur­day, when he suf­fered a heart at­tack after chok­ing on food at an area restau­rant.

“He was so strong and lived for many hours after be­ing re­moved from life sup­port,” Bill Con­aboy said. “The gen­eral trauma of the event ... was be­yond his abil­ity to re­cover.”

Dozens of fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing his 12 chil­dren, their spouses and nu­mer­ous other fam­ily mem­bers kept a con­stant vigil as he lay in a med­i­cally in­duced comma, he said.

“My mother is the rock of this fam­ily and was at his side from the sec­ond he en­tered the hospi­tal, hold­ing his hand un­til the time he passed,” Con­aboy said.

Born June 12, 1925, in the Mi­nooka sec­tion of Scranton, Richard Con­aboy be­gan his le­gal ca­reer in 1951, spe­cial­iz­ing in la­bor law. He was ap­pointed judge in Lack­awanna County Court in 1962. He held that po­si­tion un­til 1979, when he was ap­pointed to the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Mid­dle Dis­trict of Penn­syl­va­nia. He re­tired in 1992, but con­tin­ued work­ing as a se­nior judge.

With the help of then-U.S. Sen. Joe Bi­den, he was named chair­man of the U.S. Sen­tenc­ing Com­mis­sion. He held that post from 1994 to 1998. The for­mer vice pres­i­dent and Scranton na­tive vis­ited him in the hospi­tal Sun­day.

Bill Con­aboy noted his fa­ther con­tin­ued to hear mat­ters be­fore the court as of last Fri­day.

“He was in ter­rific health and still work­ing ev­ery day,” Bill Con­aboy said.

His death leaves a deep void in the le­gal com­mu­nity and com­mu­nity at large, friends and fam­ily mem­bers said.

“They just don’t come around like him too of­ten,” said Lack­awanna County Judge James Gib­bons, who served as Con­aboy’s law clerk in Lack­awanna County Court from 1982 to 1984.

Gib­bons and other at­tor­neys and judges said Con­aboy was an ex­cep­tional le­gal scholar. He was equally re­spected for his de­meanor on the bench.

“He had a won­der­ful way with peo­ple,” Gib­bons said. “It didn’t mat­ter who was in the court­room, every­one was treated the same way.”

He said Con­aboy was a hum­ble man known for his self-dep­re­cat­ing sense of hu­mor and pa­tience — an at­tribute Gib­bons said Con­aboy joked came from rais­ing 12 chil­dren.

“He took his job very, very se­ri­ously, but didn’t take him­self too se­ri­ously,” Gib­bons said.

His de­meanor was a great as­set in help­ing to me­di­ate dis­putes, said Lack­awanna County Judge Ter­rence Nealon.

“He had a re­mark­able abil­ity to re­solve cases,” Nealon said. “He’d open a set­tle­ment con­fer­ence with some type of hu­mor­ous story or joke — usu­ally a self-dep­re­cat­ing one — and defuse the ran­cor and ten­sion.”

Christo­pher C. Con­ner, chief judge for the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Mid­dle Dis­trict of Penn­syl­va­nia, said Con­aboy be­stowed “a truly memorable legacy” with his ser­vice to the court.

“Judge Con­aboy was an as­tute ju­rist and the consummate gen­tle­man, who made many, ex­tra­or­di­nary con­tri­bu­tions to our court and to our coun­try,” Con­ner said in a pre­pared state­ment. “Our dis­trict will be for­ever hon­ored by Judge Con­aboy’s dis­tin­guished ser­vice.”

At­tor­ney Ernest Preate Jr. lauded Con­aboy for his ef­forts to re­form sen­tenc­ing guide­lines when he was chair­man of the U.S. Sen­tenc­ing Com­mis­sion from 1994 to 1998.

“He was a com­pas­sion­ate man in­ter­ested in mak­ing the sys­tem work and not just be a rub­ber stamp for prose­cu­tors,” Preate said.

At the time he took the po­si­tion, there was a crack co­caine epi­demic in the na­tion. That led the leg­is­la­ture to sig­nif­i­cantly en­hance penal­ties for pos­ses­sion of crack, com­pared to pow­der co­caine.

Bill Con­aboy said his fa­ther was deeply con­cerned the guide­lines dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected mi­nori­ties.

“It was gen­er­ally pover­tys­tricken mi­nori­ties in in­ner cities fill­ing our jails. My fa­ther’s goal was to en­sure every­one was treated fairly,” he said.

Con­aboy said his fa­ther’s ef­forts laid the ground work for the 2010 Fair Sen­tenc­ing Act,which re­duced the dis­par­ity.

“He got those con­ver­sa­tions started,” Con­aboy said.

His fa­ther was also deeply com­mit­ted to the com­mu­nity, serv­ing on many boards of char­i­ta­ble and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions through­out his life.

His ded­i­ca­tion to the law and com­mu­nity was sur­passed only by his love for his fam­ily, he said. In ad­di­tion to his 12 chil­dren, he is sur­vived by 48 grand­chil­dren and 49 great-grand­chil­dren, with sev­eral more on the way.

“He was a real fam­ily man and was so proud of his chil­dren, his grand­chil­dren and great-grand­chil­dren,” Nealon said.

Con­aboy was life­long friends with Nealon’s fa­ther, Se­nior U.S. Dis­trict Judge Wil­liam J. Nealon,who died Aug. 30.

Ter­rence Nealon said Con­aboy re­mained a com­mit­ted friend to his fa­ther even after his death. One of his fa­ther’s wishes was to have Con­aboy serve as a pall­bearer at his fu­neral. The fam­ily was re­luc­tant to ask, know­ing the strain car­ry­ing a cas­ket could have on him.

“We did so with the ex­pec­ta­tion that his dif­fi­culty in walk­ing would pre­vent him from do­ing so,” Nealon said.

To their sur­prise, he agreed. “He was de­ter­mined to honor my fa­ther’s wishes,” he said.

Con­aboy’s fu­neral ar­range­ments are pend­ing, Bill Con­aboy said. As the fam­ily grieves his death, they take so­lace in know­ing he im­pacted so many lives.

“If any­one was born to be a judge, it was my dad,” Con­aboy said. “He had a long, won­der­ful, blessed life. For that, we are enor­mously grate­ful. We will miss him im­mensely.”

TiMES-SHAMROcK FiLE

U.S. Dis­trict Judges Richard P. Con­aboy, left, and Wil­liam J. Nealon fol­low­ing Con­aboy’s swear­ing-in cer­e­mony to the fed­eral bench on Aug. 6, 1979. Con­aboy, who be­gan his law ca­reer in 1951 and would later be­come a fed­eral judge, died Fri­day. He was 93.

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