Albert W. Sheppard, longtime Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge, dies at age 74

Jon Campisi Sep. 8, 2011, 5:20pm

A well-respected Philadelphia jurist who helped to spearhead a new way of dealing with commerce litigation here in the city has died.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Albert W. Sheppard, who worked to create the Commerce Case Management Program as a streamlined way of handling business litigation, passed away Sept. 4 at age 74, according to his son, lawyer Mark Sheppard of the Center City, Philadelphia firm Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads.

The younger Sheppard said his dad died while doing what he loved best, tending to his garden; the judge had suffered a massive heart attack.

Judge Sheppard was a trained electrical engineer who served in the United States Navy before deciding to head off to law school at Temple University in the mid 1960s, according to an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal.

After obtaining his law degree, the story says, Sheppard got a job as an antitrust attorney at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis. He was elected to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 1983.

In the mid 1990s, the article states, Sheppard created his own committee to study the city’s court system and hopefully devise a way to help streamline a backlog of cases.

That eventually translated to the creation of the Commerce Case Management Program, of which Sheppard became a team leader in 2000. He served as one of two original judges presiding over the business litigation program.

On its website, the Philadelphia Bar Association said its business litigation committee “strongly supported” the establishment of the court’s Commerce Case Management Program, and assisted the court in its implementation.

“By any measure, the Commerce Case Management Program has proved to be a remarkable success,” a statement on the website says. “A key part of the Committee’s mission is to continue to work with the Court, in whatever ways the Court deems helpful, to strengthen and further improve the Program.”

News articles highlighting the life and times of Judge Sheppard paint the longtime jurist in a positive light.

“When people think of Judge Sheppard they think of his modesty and his intellect and his kindness,” lawyer Robert C. Heim told Philadelphia’s Legal Intelligencer newspaper. “Whether you won or lost in front of him you came away with a lot of respect for him and the court. What more can you ask of a man?”

Mark Sheppard also spoke highly of his father, a born-and-bred Philadelphian who grew up in the city’s East Oak Lane section, and attend North Catholic High School, Villanova University and, eventually, Temple Law School.

“The thing that gives me a lot of comfort was he was very down to earth,” Sheppard said in a phone interview with the Pennsylvania Record Wednesday morning. “He had a way of putting you at ease. He was not full of himself.”

Sheppard said attorney’s who had the pleasure of appearing before Judge Sheppard all came away with positive impressions of the jurist.

“As his son, it’s wonderful to hear that,” Sheppard said. “To me, my father was always the smartest guy I ever met. And unassuming.”

He said his father had a “terrific legal mind,” and was also “very bright, and had courage when he had to make hard decisions.”

The elder Sheppard eventually inspired his son into going into the legal field.

“At times it was difficult because he set the bar so high,” Sheppard said. “Sometimes it’s hard for a young lawyer, or even a not-so-young-lawyer at this point, when your father casts such a large shadow.”

The late judge’s youngest daughter, M. Susan Sheppard, also followed in her father’s footsteps, pursuing a law career. Today, she has her own law practice in Cape May County, N.J. She’s also an elected county freeholder.

During a phone interview, M. Susan Sheppard recalled proud moments, like the time her dad swore her into her first elected position, that of Ocean City, N.J. councilwoman.

“He was a true inspiration,” she said. “I’ve always respected him and loved him as a mentor.”

M. Susan Sheppard agreed with her brother about their dad’s intellect, saying the elder Sheppard was “really, really smart.”

She learned to write legal briefs from her dad, and, as she recalled, “It wasn’t how you wrote it, it was how you rewrote it.”

Perhaps what impressed her most about her dad was his humility. While some judges have big heads, her dad was never pretentious, she said.

“What is so impressive to everybody is that he was a very humble man,” M. Susan Sheppard said. “He would always say everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time.”

The late judge was a “renaissance man,” his daughter said. In addition to his legal capabilities, Judge Sheppard also composed music and loved sports, proving his well roundedness.

M. Susan Sheppard said the outreach on the part of the attorney’s and judges who worked with her father, as well as others who knew the man, is awe-inspiring.

“It’s just been phenomenal,” she said. “It’s a true testament to his abilities.”

In recent years, Judge Sheppard lived with his wife, Alice C. Sheppard, in Philly’s East Falls neighborhood. His son said he lived not too far from former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and former Gov. Ed Rendell. The judge knew both well, Mark Sheppard said.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Judge Sheppard is also survived by another daughter, Lisa M. Sheppard, a radiologist.

A viewing will be held Sept. 8 at an undetermined time at the McIlvaine Funeral Home located at 3711 Midvale Ave. in East Falls. A Christian burial Mass will be celebrated at noon Sept. 9 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, 1723 Race St., Philadelphia. Burial will follow immediately after at Calvary Cemetery, Gulph and Matsonford roads, West Conshohocken.

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