Thomas G. Gavin ends ten­ure as longest-serv­ing judge in county his­tory

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter To contact Ch­ester County Court­house re­porter Michael P. Rel­la­han, call 610-696-1544.

WEST CH­ESTER » In a court­room at the Ch­ester County Jus­tice Cen­ter dec­o­rated with a “Happy Re­tire­ment” ban­ner and col­or­ful pa­per plates full of cook­ies and cake that had been laid out in his honor, Thomas G. Gavin, the longest serv­ing ju­rist in the county’s his­tory, smiled as he rem­i­nisced with other court per­son­al­i­ties about the decades that he’d seen go by from his seat on the bench.

“It’s been a good 33 years,” stated Gavin, who spent his last for­mal day as a judge in the county on Fri­day, June 8, feted by his black-robed col­leagues in a sur­prise good­bye cer­e­mony in Court­room Two on the court­house’s sev­enth floor.

“No,” cor­rected Ni­cholas Casenta, the county Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s chief deputy for ap­peals, who was stand­ing next to the judge in the small court­room that had been trans­formed into a makeshift party hall. “Thir­tytwo years, five months, and five days. I know, be­cause we started on the same day. And I count.”

It was that sort of a week for Gavin. Time to smile with peo­ple he’d come to know and ad­mire over the years; time to re­mem­ber those who’d helped him out on his road through a le­gal ca­reer that spans four decades; time to drop the guard that comes from the lofty perch of a judge’s bench; and time to lis­ten to the le­gal ex­pert Casenta make one more de­fin­i­tive dec­la­ra­tion.

Gavin, 73, of West Goshen, de­cided to of­fi­cially re­tire from ser­vice in the county in part af­ter grow­ing frus­trated with changes that the state has made in the way it treats se­nior judges — those ju­rists who step down from full-time work on the bench but who fill in on a reg­u­lar ba­sis both in the county’s where they were elected and in other ju­ris­dic­tions across the state.

He will, how­ever, con­tinue to work as a se­nior judge in other coun­ties on specific cases. He is sched­uled, for ex­am­ple, to pre­side next year over the in­sur­ance fraud tri­als in­volv­ing mem­bers of a po­lit­i­cally con­nected Bucks County fam­ily stem­ming from an ar­son in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He plans to travel with his wife, Denise Gavin, and spend time with his large fam­ily.

Up un­til the close of busi­ness Fri­day, Gavin had con­tin­ued to over­see a list of cur­rent county crim­i­nal cases, ac­cept­ing pleas and man­ag­ing their flow. On Wed­nes­day, he over­saw the high-pro­file sen­tenc­ing of a state trooper who had punched a drunk driv­ing sus­pect while the man was hand­cuffed, or­der­ing the man sent to county prison.

On Fri­day morn­ing, in the court­room where he has served off and on since the Jus­tice Cen­ter opened in 2008, Gavin was ex­pected only to go through the list of crim­i­nal mat­ters be­fore him un­til quit­ting time at noon. But his col­leagues on the bench had other ideas, gath­er­ing in ad­vance of his ap­pear­ance in the court­room to sur­prise him and pay trib­ute, “be­fore you turn into a pump­kin,” joked Pres­i­dent Judge Jacqueline Car­roll Cody.

Cody told Gavin that it would have been im­pos­si­ble to let him go with­out fi­nally telling him how thank­ful the judges were, “for all you’ve done for the cit­i­zens of Ch­ester County, and for us.

“You have re­ally set a standard of what it means to be a good ju­rist,” Cody said, call­ing him hard-work­ing, fair, and a men­tor to the younger col­leagues on the bench.

One of those, Judge Pa­trick Car­mody, had ear­lier de­liv­ered a let­ter to Gavin’s cham­bers in which he tried to de­scribe what made the el­der states­man so im­por­tant in the county’s le­gal com­mu­nity.

“The word Hon­or­able was never more ap­pro­pri­ately pinned on any­one. Your ad­vice over the years has been in­valu­able to me and count­less oth­ers,” Car­mody ap­peared be­fore Gavin as one of the county’s top pros­e­cu­tors for years and got to know his moods, char­ac­ter, and quirks. “As a judge, no lit­i­gant ever knew ex­actly how you would rule, which is how it should be. But we knew that you would ag­o­nize over do­ing what is right, re­gard­less of any crit­i­cism.

“Over the years, I would hear some at­tor­neys com­plain about you, but I no­ticed it was never the peo­ple as­signed to your court­room,” Car­mody wrote. “Those peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ated how you treated them. You wanted a fair trial where each at­tor­ney worked hard both on be­half of their side and also to improve them­selves. An at­tor­ney once com­plained that you yelled at them, and I said, “That shows he thinks you have po­ten­tial. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t say any­thing.”

Gavin had for­mally re­signed from his full-time po­si­tion on the Com­mon Pleas bench in 2010, but con­tin­ued on with his se­nior du­ties un­til now.

A na­tive of Scran­ton and grad­u­ate of Vil­lanova Univer­sity and the Vil­lanova School of Law, Gavin was elected to the court in 1985 and won re­ten­tion to the bench for suc­ces­sive 10-year-terms in 1995 and 2005. He served as the county’s pres­i­dent judge from 1995 to 2000 and was a mem­ber of the state’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Trial Judges.

Gavin worked in pri­vate prac­tice be­fore his elec­tion to the bench and served as a town­ship su­per­vi­sor in West Goshen and as an as­sis­tant dis­trict at­tor­ney in the 1970s.

A former U.S. Marine who served in Viet­nam, Gavin was known as a some­times can­did, no-non­sense judge who would fre­quently speak his mind from the bench, talk­ing to the crim­i­nal de­fen­dants who ap­peared be­fore him on a down-to-earth level and in terms they could read­ily un­der­stand.

In re­marks to a re­porter on Thurs­day af­ter the well-wish­ers at the in­for­mal re­cep­tion held for him had gone back to work, Gavin waxed nos­tal­gic on the years that had come and gone, and opined on one of his fa­vorite sub­jects — the de­cline of re­spect in the coun­try.

“I grew up in the golden age of the (Ch­ester County) court in the 1970s and 1980s,” he said. “And I got to watch the great­est lawyers prac­tice.” He re­mem­bered court clerks who would write their trial notes in beau­ti­ful script, and judges who ad­vised him to al­ways wear a suit and tie, never a sports jacket, in court. “You have to have the re­spect of peo­ple who come be­fore you. And there is not a lot of re­spect for any­thing any­more, and that is tak­ing a toll on so­ci­ety. No­body talks any­more; we talk at each other, not to each other.”

But the cur­mud­geonly side of Gavin had dis­ap­peared by the time he strode into the bench on Fri­day to find 13 other judges wait­ing for him in the court­room where there hangs por­traits of

all of them, and those who had served on the bench back into the 18th cen­tury.

“I have been lucky to serve with won­der­ful peo­ple all my life,” he said, wish­ing them the best. “As one of my col­leagues said, ‘It’s a small town. I’ll be back.’”


Ch­ester County Com­mon Pleas Court Pres­i­dent Judge Jacqueline Car­roll Cody, sec­ond from left, bids farewell to Se­nior Judge Thomas Gavin on his last for­mal day of work on the bench as her col­leagues lis­ten on Fri­day, June 8.


Ch­ester County Com­mon Pleas Court Se­nior Judge Thomas G. Gavin said good­bye to court per­son­nel dur­ing an in­for­mal party at the Ch­ester County Jus­tice Cen­ter.

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