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Federal courthouse in Pittsburgh to be renamed after late judge

| Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, 10:30 p.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.
Judge Joseph F. Weis Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit died Wednesday, March 19, 2014. He was 91.

He's not the first federal judge to have his name on a courthouse, but Joseph F. Weis Jr. could be the nicest judge to receive the honor.

“He never lost his humility,” said Roslyn Litman, a charter member of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County.

Congress approved a law this year naming the Downtown federal courthouse the “Joseph F. Weis Jr. United States Courthouse.” The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals plans to hold a special session at 11 a.m. Friday at the courthouse to make the name official.

Litman, a Downtown attorney, cited Weis' work in helping found the academy and spending countless hours on its mission of improving relations between lawyers and judges in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

“He uniquely represents the spirit of cooperation between the bench and the bar ... by the work he did with the academy and the bar association,” she said.

Weis of Fox Chapel died March 19, 2014, at 91.

A World War II combat veteran awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, Weis graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1950. He worked in private practice until 1968 when he became an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge.

Two years later, he was appointed to a federal judge position in Pittsburgh and was appointed to the 3rd Circuit in 1973.

In 1989, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist picked Weis to chair a congressionally mandated committee established to study the federal judiciary and recommend changes that would allow it to accommodate a rapid expansion of federal litigation.

The Federal Courts Study Committee came back with a report in 15 months, and Congress quickly enacted many of its recommendations, said Pitt law professor Arthur Hellman.

“That's just astonishingly fast, considering the breadth of the subject and the depth of the report,” he said.

Weis was a strong leader who had the ability to bring people together, which was important on a committee with several “high-powered people on it,” he said.

One of Weis' former law clerks, Downtown attorney Arthur Stroyd, said he was a soft-spoken man who set high standards for himself and others.

“He never really lectured, but he always set an example,” Stroyd said.

Naming the courthouse after Weis is “not just a tribute to him and his many accomplishments, but it will also set an example for younger lawyers who never had the good fortune to clerk for him,” he said.

Weis set the same examples in his personal life, said his son, Joe Weis, a Downtown attorney.

“You always have to take the correct path even if it's the one that forces the tougher decision,” he said. “You do not take the shortcut, you don't make your life easier, if it's the wrong thing to do.”

Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301.

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