Jon Campisi May 1, 2013, 7:49am

The chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, who

served as the first African American in that position, has passed away.

According to his obituary and news reports, U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster, 63, who served as the chief judge at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh, died on April 24 of hypertensive heart disease.

Lancaster, who had been appointed as a federal judge by President Bill Clinton in 1993, became chief judge of the Western District in 2009.

According to an online biography, Lancaster, a native of Brownsville, Pa., which is located in Fayette County, about 35 miles south of Pittsburgh, obtained his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974.

For the next four years, Lancaster served as regional counsel for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and as an assistant district attorney in Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh.

Lancaster entered private practice in 1978, where he focused on both civil and criminal matters.

The lawyer became a jurist in late 1987 when he was appointed to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge, after which he became a District Judge six years later, his bio shows.

During his tenure in the Western District, Lancaster oversaw a $75 million renovation of the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh.

During the summer of 2004, his bio states, Lancaster was appointed by then-Chief Judge Anthony J. Scirica of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals to serve on the committee to draft standard civil jury instructions for that federal appeals body.

Also that summer, Lancaster was appointed by the late Chief U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist to serve on the United States Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources.

Seven years later, Lancaster was chosen to serve as the Third Circuit’s District Judge representative to the Judicial Conference of the United States from October 2011 to October 2014.

Lancaster passed away before he could finish out that task.

Before his death, Lancaster had been designated a patent judge under the Patent Pilot Program, a decade-long program created by the United States Congress to enhance expertise in patent cases among federal jurists at the trial court level, his biography states.

Lancaster was a frequent nationwide speaker on the topics of patent law and patent litigation.

He also served on the Community Advisory Board of the Directors of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and belonged to various civic, religious and charitable groups.

Fellow U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin told the Legal Intelligencer last week that Lancaster “really cared about people,” and that the chief judge brought a style that wasn’t “dictatorial,” but rather collaborative, upon being appointed chief judge back in 2009.

McLaughlin, also a Clinton appointee, is expected to succeed Lancaster as chief judge of the Western District.

According to his obituary, Lancaster is survived by his son, Matthew Lancaster, his mother, Arabelle Lancaster, and his brother, Paul Lancaster, Jr.

Funeral services were scheduled to be held on May 1 in Lancaster’s hometown of Brownsville.

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