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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, March 20, 2017

Judge Panella's Has Some Kind Words About My Father

Blogger's Note: Superior Court Jack Panella will address his fellow judges and lawyers at this year's annual Reception for the Court, scheduled this Friday. By digging through his garbage, which is what we bottom-feeding bloggers do, I found an advance copy and am sharing it with you because he'll be talking about Bernie O'Hare. But it's another Bernie O'Hare. My late father. He was Bernie O'Hare, Jr. I am Bernie O'Hare III, or as my father would delicately put it, Bernie O'Hare the turd. I would later name my son Bernie O'Hare IV, and call him Bernie O'Hare the fart. I wish to thank Judge Panella for his kind words about my Dad.  

The Northampton County Bar Association has an admirable long standing tradition which fosters the administration of justice in our county. Each year the Bar Association hosts the judges for a dinner known as the Reception for the Court to honor the bench. But during this evening, as part of the ceremony, the gears switch and the bench joins with the lawyers to recognize the members of the Bar that have been practicing for fifty years (that’s right, half a century). That is an accomplishment not easily reached, requiring both longevity and devotion, as well as the ability to deal with a professional stress level that reaches epic proportions. Often, the honored members of the bar are introduced by their peers.

 My Dad claims our family was kicked 
out of Ireland for making bad whiskey. 
An equally important part of this dinner is that the lawyers and the judges meet outside of the courthouse. Over an evening, they converse about ways to improve the profession. They talk about access to justice. Maybe they do tell a joke or two. And they enjoy their time together. This special relationship between our Bar Association and the Court has produced a prodigious record of improvements in the administration of our courts and support for legal services.

This dinner is also important for the lawyers to meet and get together. In a non-confrontational setting, the event promotes civility among the lawyers. We all recognize that an attorney is obligated ethically to have absolute loyalty to his or her client, and to provide competent representation. Being cordial and accommodating to opposing counsel is not in conflict with a lawyer’s allegiance to a client; rather, it is in harmony with the lawyer’s oath to the Court and usually results in representing a client’s best interests.

I was reminded of the importance of this event when I came across a letter I recently discovered. When I first went on the bench in 1991, I inherited a set of files from former President Judge Alfred T. Williams, Jr., a beloved mentor of mine. In going through some of these files just last month, I uncovered a delightful letter sent to Judge Williams from the late attorney Bernard O’Hare, Jr.

Bernie was an absolute legal genius and a master of the art of cross-examination, and was one of the most respected members of our Bar Association. Judge James Hogan once said that a thousand points of light emanated from Bernie.

It is legendary now that Bernie and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., were prisoners of war together at Dresden during World War II. Vonnegut’s experiences were the basis for his book, "Slaughterhouse-Five" which includes numerous references to Bernie and which was dedicated to Bernie’s wife.

Bernie also had a homespun wit that was unmatched. Although Bernie was extremely intelligent, he had an unassuming, insightful humor that connected with everyone he met. He could put a smile on the most serious, reserved juror, attorney or judge.

And, I found this letter.

In 1982, Bernie wrote to Judge Williams, about that year’s Reception for the Court. In his letter, Bernie offered “anecdotal material” bearing upon and illustrating “the human and endearing side” of one of the 50-year members. Bernie explained that he had “thrived” in the employ of this attorney earlier in his career, and that he was knowledgeable about the attorney’s “health, fortune and lovable disposition.”

Bernie expressed surprise as to why Judge Williams had not contacted him for comments about this attorney. To help remedy this quandary, Bernie offered three pages of these “endearing qualities.”

Bernie then attached three pages.

They were numbered. They were blank.

There was no hostility, meanness or unkindness intended. Just a wonderful humor that I am sure put a smile on Judge Williams’ face. A moment of lightheartedness shared by two professionals who had their share of serious matters every working day.


Robert Trotner said...

An excellent story.Your dad was quite a man.

Anonymous said...

He only made one mistake.......................

Anonymous said...

Robert said it perfectly, that he was.

The Banker

joe said...

Your dad sounds like a pretty incredible man, Bernie.

...and as a huge Vonnegut fan, I always geek out a little when you write about their friendship or experiences in the war together.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks Joe