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African-American Judges

AFRICAN-AMERICAN JUDGES OF THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS

by Joel Fishman, Ph.D.

In commemoration of Black History Month, we recognize twelve African-American judges (eight men and four women) who have sat or are sitting on the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Fifth Judicial District, Pennsylvania. The first judge began in 1950 and three still sit on the court, while three succeeded to appellate positions (two retired and one still on the Superior Court). The following biographies are drawn mostly from Joel Fishman, Judges of Allegheny County, Fifth Judicial District, Pennsylvania (1788-2008) (2d. ed. 2009).

NAME DATES OF SERVICE
Allen, Cheryl Lynn July 20, 1990-December 27, 2007
Baldwin, Cynthia A. January 1, 1990-February 16, 2006
Brown, Homer S. January 3, 1950-May 18, 1956; January 1, 1957-August 31, 1975
Clark, Kim Berkeley March 17, 1999 to present
Harper, Thomas A. January 3, 1972-June 27, 1983
Johnson, Livingstone M. January 2, 1973-December 27, 1997
Little, Walter January 6, 1986-January 31, 2006
Smith, Henry, Jr. January 5, 1970-January 6, 1987
Smith-Ribner, Doris December 20, 1984-Janauary 5, 1986
Watson, J. Warren January 3, 1966-February 20, 1993
Williams, Joseph K., III November 10, 2008 to present
Woodruff, Dwayne January 2, 2006 to present

 

Cheryl Allen

Cheryl Lynn Allen (1947- ) sat as the second African-American woman judge on the court from July 20, 1990 to December 27, 2007, when she was elevated to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (J.D., 1975). Among her former positions were Attorney in the Neighborhood Legal Services (1975-76), Assistant Solicitor in the Allegheny County Law Department (1977-90), General Counsel of the Wilkinsburg Chapter of the NAACP (1979-87), and in private practice (1980-90). She has won numerous awards including Outstanding Young Women in America (1980, 1982, 1983), University of Pittsburgh Alumni of the Year (1999), National Association of Negro Business & Professional Women Sojourner Truth Award (2000), Juvenile Court Judges Commission Award (2004), The Legal Intelligencer & Pennsylvania Law Weekly Women of the Year (2008), and New Pittsburgh Courier's Women of Excellence Award (2008).

Cynthia Baldwin

Cynthia Ackron Baldwin (1945) sat as the second African-American woman judge and first to be elected to the court from January 8, 1990 to February 16, 2006, when Governor Edward Rendell raised her to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as its third woman and second African-American justice (February 16, 2006-December 31, 2007). Baldwin graduated from Duquesne University School of Law (J.D., 1980) Among her former positions were Staff Attorney, Neighborhood Legal Services (1980-81), Deputy Attorney-General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1983-86), private practice (1987-89), and Adjunct Professor, Duquesne University School of Law (1989-2001). Following her stint on the Supreme Court, she became a partner in Duane Morris (2008) and then General Counsel and Vice President, Penn State University (2008-2012). Among Baldwin's other positions included a Fulbright Scholar teaching in Zimbabwe, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Penn State University (2004-07), Duquesne University Board of Directors (1996-2005). Among her honors and awards were Pittsburgh Woman of the Year in Law and Government for 1998, Pittsburgher of the Century, African-American, Pittsburgh Magazine (1999), Woman of Spirit, Carlow College (2004), Athena Award, Allegheny Conference on Community Development (2007), and Anne X. Alpern Award, PBA Commission on Women in the Profession Committee (2008).

HomerBrown

Homer S. Brown (1897-1977) was the first African-American to serve as a judge in Allegheny County. Before the consolidation of the county courts under the Constitution of 1968, he first sat on the County Court (January 3, 1950-May 18, 1956) and then was elected to the Court of Common Pleas in November 1956 and sat from January 1957 to August 31, 1975. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (LL.B., 1923) and held honorary degrees from four additional universities. He was the founder and served as first president (1924-48) of the Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP. He sat in the House of Representatives of the Pennsylvania General Assembly (1935-50) and authored the Pennsylvania Fair Employment Practices Act. He was also a member of the National Commission for U.N.E.S.C.O., and first African-American to be appointed to the Pittsburgh Board of Education.

Kim Clark

Kim Berkeley Clark (1956-) has sat on the court since April 7, 1999 to present. She has served twice as Administrative Judge of the Family Division (2005-08 and 2013-15). She graduated from Duquesne University School of Law (J.D., 1983). Her previous position was Deputy Assistant Attorney, Allegheny County (1983-99). She was the first African-American woman President of the Allegheny County Bar Association (2006-07). Among her memberships of organizations include the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Racial, Gender, and Ethnic Fairness; the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency-Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee; the State Council for Interstate Juvenile Supervision; the Beverly Jewel Wallace Lovelace Children's Program Advisory Board, the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Ethics Committee, the NCJW Children's Waiting Room Advisory Board; the Allegheny County Youth Futures Commission; the Pennsylvania Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network; the Fatherhood Engagement and Visitation Workgroups for the Statewide Children's Roundtable (co-chair); and the Joint State Government Commission on Children of Incarcerated Parents. Among her awards were Humanitarian Award, McKeesport Black Caucus (1999), Children First Prevention Award, Family Resources (2004), and Greater Pittsburgh Athena Award (2012).

Thomas Harper

Thomas A. Harper (1923-83) sat as a judge on the court from January 3, 1972 until his death in office on June 27, 1983. He graduated from Howard University School of Law (LL.B., 1954). He was the first African-American assistant public defender in Pennsylvania. He previously served in private practice as a named partner in two law firms before obtaining his appointment as judge. Among his awards were Outstanding Service in Government Award, Guardians of Greater Pittsburgh (1973) and Award of Recognition, Community Release Agency (1976). Among his memberships were the first African-American elected to the Braddock School Board (1961-68), Tri-Boros Chapter, NAACP, and Community Action Pittsburgh (1971-74).

Livingstone Johnson

Livingstone M. Johnson (1927-) sat as a judge on the court from 1973 to December 27, 1997, when he took senior status from 1997 to 2012. He graduated from the University of Michigan School Law School (J.D., 1957). He was an Assistant Solicitor, Allegheny County (1962-73). Among his honors and awards Distinguished Flying Cross, Commendation Medal, Air Medal, and 3 Oak Leaf Clusters for his Air Force service in World War II; Susan B. Anthony Award, Women's Bar Association (1995), and Philip Werner Amram Award, Allegheny County Bar Association (2007). Among his memberships he was on the Board of Governors, Allegheny County Bar Association (1969-74), Board of Trustees, NAACP (1962-68), life member of the Urban League, and Pennsylvania Joint Commission on Crime.

Walter Little

Walter R. Little (1943-2006), sat as a judge on the court from January 6, 1986 to his resignation on January 31, 2006, when he took senior status until his death in office on June 5, 2006. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (J.D., 1973). He was a Deputy Attorney General for the Commonwealth (1973-76), a trial attorney in the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office (1976), and a District Magistrate of the City of Pittsburgh (1979-85). He was a member of the Pittsburgh chapter, NAACP, Guardians of Greater Pittsburgh, Inc., and board member of the Sickle Cell Society, Inc.

Henry Smith

Henry R. Smith, Jr. (1917-95) sat as a judge on the court from January 7, 1980 to February 6, 1987, when he assumed senior status until his death in office on July 26, 1995. He graduated from Duquesne University School of Law (J.D., 1949). He was an Assistant District Attorney, Allegheny County (1951-52), Assistant General Counsel, City of Pittsburgh Housing Authority (1951-53), and Director, Office of Economic Opportunity, Allegheny County (1964-69). Among his awards were one of 100 Outstanding Young Men by Time Magazine and Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce (1953), Top Hat Award, Pittsburgh Courier (1981), Pittsburgh Courier Civil Rights Award (1962), Pennsylvania NAACP Human Rights Award (1969), and Distinguished Alumnus Award, Penn State University (1983). Among his memberships were the Pennsylvania Advisory Board on Probation, Judicial Inquiry and Review Board, member of the Board of Trustees of Duquesne University and Carnegie Mellon University, Indiana University, and Point Park College, ACLU, and founder of the Criminal Justice Volunteers, Inc.

Doris Ribner

Doris A. Smith-Ribner (1945- ) was appointed by Governor Richard Thornburg in 1984 and sat as the first African-American woman judge on the court from November 1984 to January 5, 1986. She was elected in November 1987 as the first African-American to be elected to a state-wide position. She sat as the first African-American woman judge on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (January 4, 1988-July 31, 2009). She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh (B.S., 1969) and University of Pittsburgh School of Law (J.D., 1972). She was in private practice until 1986 and also held positions as Commissioner, Pennsylvania State Human Commission (1974-80), member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board (1981-84), and Solicitor, County Controller of Allegheny County (1980-84). President Obama appointed her in January 2014 to serve on the President's Advisory Commission for Educational Excellence for African Americans. Among her awards were Businesswoman of the Year, Business & Professional Women's Club (1985), Distinguished Alumni Award, University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and Commencement Speaker, University of Pittsburgh School of Law (May 26, 2007). Among her memberships were a member of the Board of Visitors, University of Pittsburgh School of Law (1996-99), member of the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness, and Life Member, National Council of Negro Women.

J. Warren Watson

J. Warren Watson (1923-) sat as a judge on the court from January 3, 1966 to February 20, 1993, and then took senior status until December 2003. He graduated from Duquesne University School of Law (LL.B., 1953). He was a member of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workmen's Compensation (1956-62), an Assistant Solicitor, City of Pittsburgh (1962-66), and in private practice (1954-66). He was the first African-American recipient of Man of the Year award by the Disabled American Veterans (1969). Among his other positions were as a board member of the Judicial Inquiry and Review Board and Community Action Pittsburgh, member of the board of directors of Centre Avenue Y.M.C.A., and legal counsel to the American Federation of Musicians.

Joseph Williams

Joseph K. Williams, III (1952- ), has sat on the court from November 10, 2008 to present. He graduated from Duquesne University School of Law (J.D., 1985). With a Master's degree in clinical psychology, he served as a psychological consultant (1977-85) and was in private practice (1985-2008). He received the Homer S. Brown Outstanding Attorney Award (2000). He was President of the Homer S. Brown Law Association (2001), member of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and the Board of the NAACP, and Secretary of the Allegheny County and City of Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Authority (2001-04).

Dwayne Woodruff

Dwayne Woodruff (1957- ) has sat on the court from mid-December 2005 to the present. He graduated from Duquesne University School of Law (J.D., 1988). Woodruff played professional football as a defense back for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1979-90). He became a judge in late December 2005 to present. He also served as a Personnel Specialist at Humana, Inc. (1980-84); attorney at Meyer, Darragh Buckler Bebenek & Eck (1989-97), Vice President of Capital Asset Research Corp. (1997-2005) and in private practice during the same period (1997-2005). Among his honors were the Team Captain of the Pittsburgh Steelers (1987-90), Man of the Year Award, Pittsburgh YMCA (1990), Dr. Martin Luther King Outstanding Citizen Award, Hand in Hand, Inc. (1996), and Duquesne Law Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award (2006). Among his memberships are lifetime member of the NAACP, board member of LaRoche College, Ronald McDonald Children Charities, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, Inner City Youth Tennis Program, and Chairperson, Do the Write Thing organization.