Retired Phila. Common Pleas Court Judge Anthony DeFino dies in house fire

By Jon Campisi | Nov 25, 2013

Anthony DeFino served as a trial judge on the Philadelphia Court of

Common Pleas for 19 years before his retirement in 2007.

The proud father also got to watch as his daughter, Rosemarie DeFino, was elected to that very same body in 2002.

The father-daughter duo marked a first for Philadelphia’s court system.

On Sunday, Anthony DeFino, 86, lost his life due to a fast-moving house fire at his South Philadelphia home.

The retired jurist’s wife, Rose, reportedly made it out of the house uninjured.

It reportedly took firefighters more than two hours to put out the blaze at the home on the 2500 block of South 20th Street, a fire that began on the first floor and soon made its way to the third floor of the structure, local media reported.

On Monday, the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted police and fire officials who confirmed DeFino’s death.

There was no word on the cause of the fire.

To those who knew the octogenarian, the tragic death marked a sad moment in Philadelphia’s legal community.

“Judge DeFino exemplified the ideals of personal character, sound judgment and professional commitment,” Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Kathleen D. Wilkinson said in a statement. “He was a respected mentor in the legal profession, a touchstone for so many who aspired to the law and a treasured friend and colleague to countless lawyers, judges and public officials.”

Wilkinson noted that DeFino had received the Thurgood Marshall Award in 2001, the highest honor presented by the bar association’s Criminal Justice Section.

The award was given for DeFino’s dedication to improving the standards of justice in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania courts.

DeFino was also given the Cesare Beccaria Award in 2008 for the man’s contribution to the cause of justice and the advancement of legal education, according to Wilkinson.

That award, which was named for an 18th century Italian scholar, is given out each year by the PBA’s Criminal Justice Section and the Justinian Society.

“On behalf of the entire legal community, we extend our condolences to Judge DeFino’s wife and family at this difficult time.”

On her website, The PR Lawyer, Gina Furia Rubel, who does public relations for legal professionals, said DeFino was known to “so many people in so many different ways.

“He was a devoted family man and a zealous jurist,” Furia Rubel wrote. “He was a community man and a proud Italian-American.”

The retired judge, she wrote, had founded the Order of Brotherly Love, he was past president of the Frank Palumbo Lodge of the Sons of Italy in America, and he was an ex officio member of the Board of Governor’s of The Justinian Society of Philadelphia.

Furia Rubel said while she never had the opportunity to try a case in front of DeFino, she did get to serve with him on the board of The Justinian Society, which is a legal group made up of lawyers, judges and law students of Italian ancestry.

“Every meeting was brighter and lighter when he was in the room,” she wrote. “His smile was contagious.”

The Legal Intelligencer newspaper on Monday quoted Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Matthew D. Carrafiello, a longtime friend of DeFino’s, as saying that the retired jurist was known for his commitment to the law and positive mental outlook.

“He believed in the solemn right of a fair trial, the law, and he believed in ethics,” Carrafiello was quoted as saying. “He was an individual with an irrepressible happiness and joy for everyone all around him. He was not an onerous person except for when individuals in the law would shirk their responsibility.”

The Intelligencer reported that DeFino was first appointed to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 1988 by former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, father of current US. Sen. Bob Casey.

DeFino had stayed on as a senior judge for another 10 years once he reached the mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 back in the late 1990s.

He was 80 years old when he left the bench.

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