August 16, 2016
Norma L. Shapiro Memorial Tribute by Michael H. Reed
On August 8, 2016, Michael H. Reed of Pepper Hamilton LLP, as Pennsylvania State Delegate, delivered a memorial tribute to the late Norma L. Shapiro, former U. S. District Judge for the E.D. of PA, in the House of Delegates during the Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association in San Francisco. The following tribute is the full version of the abridged presentation by Mr. Reed…
Madam Chair, honored guests and fellow Delegates, I am truly honored to present memorial remarks for the Honorable Norma L. Shapiro, a great American, a great member of our profession and this Association and a dear personal friend. Judge Shapiro died peacefully in the presence of her three sons and other close family and friends on July 22, 2016 at the age of 87.
On learning of Judge Shapiro's passing, one former colleague on the federal bench stated that she was "passionately dedicated to the highest ideals of justice for all; resolutely entrenched as a fearless spokesperson and standard bearer in the legal profession; firmly respected and honored for her keen intellect; but most of all, greatly cherished and remembered as a dear, dear friend."
In 2003, former ABA President Jerome J. Shestack, wrote a tribute to Judge Shapiro in which he borrowed from Judged Learned Hand, who, speaking of Justice Brandeis, once said that a person's life "like a piece of tapestry, is made up of many strands which interwoven make a pattern;" to separate a single strand risks an injustice to the beauty of the whole. Jerry went on to say that his brief tribute to Judge Shapiro could hardly do justice to the content of so full and rich a life. It is impossible to do justice to Judge Shapiro in a short tribute.
Norma Sondra Levy was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1928. Her father sold furniture and her mother was a teacher. She received a BA from Michigan in 1948 and a J.D. from Penn Law School in 1951. While in law school, Norma married Bernard Shapiro, a doctor of nuclear medicine, who was her constant and beloved companion until his death in 2007. They had 3 sons, Finley, Neil and Aaron, and 7 grandchildren. After law school, Norma clerked for the Honorable Horace Stern of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She then served a fellowship in criminal law at Penn and was in private practice in Philadelphia from 1956 to 1978.
On the nomination of President Jimmy Carter, Norma was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 11, 1978 as a member of the United States District for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She assumed senior status on December 31, 1998 and served faithfully and diligently on that Court until her death.
Her career was marked by many firsts. She was the first woman to serve as a law clerk on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; the first woman partner at the Dechert firm; the first woman to serve as a member, and later as chair, of the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association; and the first woman to serve as a judge on any federal court in the Third Circuit.
In reviewing her life, it is hard to believe that a single person could have done so many things and excelled at all of them.
The most important roles in her life were those of wife to her best friend Bernie, mother to her 3 sons and grandmother to her 7 grandchildren. Judge Shapiro interrupted her career for 9 years to be a full-time homemaker. One of her grandsons noted at her funeral that Judge Shapiro kept track of the record and schedule of the basketball team on which he played and frequently attended games.
Judge Shapiro chaired the board of directors of an arts foundation; served as president of a local school board; served as an overseer of Penn Law School; and served as an officer or trustee of various other charities.
As a judge, she handled many important cases, including Harris v. City of Philadelphia, a dispute regarding overcrowded prison conditions that lasted for 18 years, resulted in a prison cap and ended with a consent decree that included the construction of new prison facilities. She was tough but fair. Famous boxing promoter Don King, in explaining his refusal to violate a gag order issued by Judge Shapiro, explained "What Judge Norma wants, Judge Norma gets."
Judge Shapiro loved her work and performed it diligently. In October, 2014, a study conducted by Syracuse University reported that Senior Judge Norma L. Shapiro, then 85, had ranked 10 on the list of nearly 1,000 federal district judges for the number of cases closed in the year ending June 30, 2014. While in the hospital and in rehab prior to her death, Judge Shapiro, assisted by her loyal and dedicated assistant Madeline Ward, continued to perform judicial functions.
Judge Shapiro's loyalty and dedication to this Association is well known. One former colleague stated that "she loved the ABA because she saw it as a means by which we could collaborate on important projects and work to right many social ills." Among other recognitions, she received the ABA's John Marshall Award, in recognition of her dedication to the improvement of the administration of justice; the Meador-Rosenberg Award for her outstanding work in support of the judiciary and judicial independence; the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award; and an ABA Presidential Citation.
She served with distinction on the Board of Governors and served as a member of this House for 15 years, representing the Judicial Division, the National Conference of Federal Trial Judges and the National Association of Women Judges. She also chaired various entities of this Association, including the Judicial Division and the former Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements. She was part of the institutional memory and DNA of the ABA.
When Judge Shapiro received the Philadelphia Bar Association's first Sandra Day O'Connor Award in 2003, Justice O'Connor noted that "As her career progressed, Judge Shapiro's light continued to shine in dark corners where women never before had traveled." Another former judicial colleague said that Judge Shapiro "broke through many glass ceilings" and was a "great role model."
In May of this year, Judge Shapiro received the Anne X. Alpern Award from the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which is presented to a female lawyer or judge who demonstrates excellence in the legal profession and who makes a significant professional impact on woman in the law. This award was named for a Pennsylvania lawyer who became the first woman state attorney general in the nation. In her acceptance remarks, Judge Shapiro noted that Anne Alpern had been one of her mentors.
It was, therefore, very fitting that Judge Shapiro, herself a legendary mentor and role model for many people, especially women lawyers, should receive an award named after one of her mentors.
In conclusion, Judge Norma L. Shapiro was a trailblazing lawyer and judge; a leader in our profession and in this Association; a mentor and role model for many; and a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, friend and colleague. She will be greatly missed. Thank you.