Profile in Quiet Courage

Newcomer The death of U.S. District Judge Clarence Newcomer Monday brought this remembrance from a former Inquirer reporter, Henry Goldman:

Every word he uttered from the bench rang with integrity. I consider his appointment one of former President Richard Nixon's greatest achievements. Newcomer's finest moment came when he put an end to days of wholesale round-ups of Latinos in the Spring Garden area in the days following the 1985 shooting of Philadelphia Police Officer Thomas Trench, shot dead as he sat behind the wheel of his squad car in the early morning hours at the start of a hot Memorial Day weekend.

The Philadelphia Police Department reacted by flooding the neighborhood, crashing in doors in the middle of the night, arresting residents without probable cause, hurling abusive language, all in the name of investigating a heinous crime. Newcomer declared their offensive acts unconstitutional, and ordered the city to pay the residents tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

In the late 1980s, he presided over the lawsuit filed by West Philadelphia's residents who'd been burned out of their homes by Mayor Wilson Goode's 1985 decision to bomb the house on Osage Avenue in which members of the radical group MOVE lived. He had all of the appearances of an umpire in a World Series match-up, during which he refused to permit City Attorneys to exclude evidence of how the mayor, police commissioner and fire commissioner arrived at the decision to use such lethal force in a neighborhood of row-houses. The jury awarded the residents almost $13 million in damages.


He showed great courage and reverence for democracy in the early 1990s when he stripped Democrat William Stinson of his state Senate Seat, saying he had assumed the office representing Northeast Philadelphia through a pattern of intentional absentee ballot fraud. The election tipped control of the state Senate to the Democrats, and Stinson got help obtaining absentee ballot votes
from the political organization of then-mayor Edward Rendell and members of the city's Board of Elections. Newcomer based his decision on the six-month long investigative efforts of the Philadelphia Inquirer's staff, which included interviews with hundreds of absentee ballot voters, and by hiring his own court-appointed statisticians and political scientists to test the Inquirer's
findings and to come up with their own.

   He had a gentle voice and a wry sense of humor, and a passion for intellectual integrity and justice that I seldom saw in the 17 years I worked as a reporter in Philadelphia. In a city of few great leaders, he was a quiet one.