Longtime New Kensington solicitor Kopelman retires

Liz Hayes
| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 7:18 a.m.

Wednesday marks the first day in 46 years that James Kopelman will not be on the job as an attorney for New Kensington officials.

Kopelman, 72, retired Tuesday as the city's longtime solicitor. He was hired as an assistant city solicitor on March 1, 1970, but already had served as counsel for the city's Redevelopment Authority for three years.

Over the decades Kopelman also offered legal advice to the Municipal Sanitary Authority of New Kensington and the Westmoreland County Housing Authority.

“It's been a wonderful run,” Kopelman said at Tuesday's council meeting. “It's the right time for me to go.”

Although Kopelman is giving up his municipal clients, he will continue to practice law through the Harrison firm Jacques & Jacques.

Anthony Vigilante was appointed as the new city solicitor at an annual salary of $21,000. Vigilante said he will continue to serve as New Kensington-Arnold School District's solicitor as well.

“I'm happy to do it,” Vigilante said. “I've lived in New Kensington my whole life. I want to help the city get better.”

Council members thanked Kopelman for his service and said they'll miss his legal expertise and the history lessons he'd provide during council meetings.

“He's been a friend to all of us and been like a father to us,” said Councilman John Regoli. “He made it a point to keep us out of trouble.”

Councilman Doug Aftanas said he appreciated not only Kopelman's legal advice for official business, but his personal assistance to Aftanas, who teaches law and other subjects at Norwin School District.

Officials said they were hard- pressed to name an instance in which Kopelman's legal advice had led them astray.

City Clerk Dennis Scarpiniti, also an attorney, said Kopelman almost always knew the answer to a question about municipal law. At the very least, he'd have a gut feeling — “And those gut feelings were usually right,” Scarpiniti said.

“He played a major role in just about every major decision in New Kensington for decades,” Mayor Tom Guzzo said. “He always had the best intentions for New Kensington in his heart.”

Although Kopelman now lives in Lower Burrell, his upbringing and career have been rooted in New Ken-sington.

Kopelman said his father, the late Dr. N.A. Kopelman, grew up on the property at the corner of 11th Street and Fourth Avenue where city hall now is located.

A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh's law school, Kopelman has practiced law since 1966.

He declined to single out any particular case or legal issue as a highlight during his tenure with the city: “They've all been interesting.”

He said he has no particular plans for his retirement. Given that he intends to continue working as an attorney, he said he hopes his workload will drop from 55-plus hours per week to a more conservative 40 hours.

Although Kopelman's attendance no longer will be required in council chambers, his presence there will continue as a result of his recent donation of two historical maps of New Kensington.

The framed maps, from 1896 and 1904, hang at the rear of the room and include plaques with Kopelman's name and noting the donations were made in honor of “Chick” and Helen Barsky.

“What can I say but I love all of you and the city of New Kensington,” Kopelman said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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