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Fox Chapel judge, revered by generations of his peers, dies at 91

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Judge Joseph F. Weis Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit died Wednesday, March 19, 2014. He was 91.

For decades, the clerks for Judge Joseph Weis Jr. considered him such a role model that they formed a fraternity of sorts they called “The Weis Guys.”

They said he built such a reputation for fairness, intelligence and temperament that generations of attorneys and judges looked up to him. Some kept a column that Weis wrote on proper judicial conduct in their office.

“Whenever you faced a difficult situation, ethically, legally, you'd ask yourself, ‘What would Judge Weis do?' ” said Art Stroyd, an attorney with Del Sole Cavanaugh Stroyd LLC, who was a clerk for Weis from 1972-74. “He was always available; his door was always open.”

Judge Joseph F. Weis Jr. of Fox Chapel, a decorated World War II veteran, co-founder of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County and former senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, died on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. He was 91.

“He was just an amazing guy, one of the best of ‘The Greatest Generation,' ” said Judge Thomas Hardiman of the Third Circuit.

Judge Weis was wounded by an exploding German shell in World War II in France, and years later, he still honored the Pittsburgh soldier who carried him off the battlefield by inviting him to events such as his installation to the bench, Stroyd said.

Eight years after earning his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, Judge Weis was one of the founders of the Academy of Trial Lawyers, which brought together plaintiffs' attorneys and defense attorneys to improve relationships between the two sides of the courtroom and improve the judicial process.

“It makes the practice of law much more professional, more civil in Pittsburgh than in other cities,” Stroyd said.

President Nixon appointed Judge Weis to the U.S. District Court's Western District of Pennsylvania on March 11, 1970, then nominated him to the Court of Appeals in 1973. His opinions were always simple and clearly stated, never obfuscated by unnecessary, dense legal language. He moved to senior status as a judge in 1988 and closed his chambers in the federal courthouse on Grant Street last year.

“He was an icon of our profession; what everyone in the legal profession should hope to be someday,” said Jack Robb, an attorney at Robb Leonard Mulvihill who was a clerk for Judge Weis. “No matter the complexity of the legal issues, he never lost sight of his basic common sense.”

He is survived by his son, Joseph Weis III of Fox Chapel; his daughters, Tracey Weis of Lancaster and Christina Weis Grant of Boston; and seven grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret; his brother, George Weis; and sisters Margaret Szot and Ann Weis.

Friends will be received from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday in the Duquesne Club, and from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday in McCabe Bros. Funeral Home, 6214 Walnut St. in Shadyside. A memorial Mass will be celebrated in St. Scholastica Church in Aspinwall at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, with interment to be in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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