Kenney appoints Judge Lerner to a cabinet post

Benjamin Lerner: “Excited and grateful.”

Mayor Kenney has named veteran Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner as deputy managing director for criminal justice.

Announcing the appointment Thursday, Kenney cited Lerner's decades of work in the criminal justice system, which includes 16 years as the judge who supervises pretrial matters in every homicide case in the city.

"I am confident his passion and expertise will give him the ability to build on our current momentum surrounding the MacArthur grant proposal," the mayor said in a statement.

Last May, the city announced that it was one of 20 municipalities to win a $150,000 planning grant from the MacArthur Foundation to develop a strategy to reduce the population of its prison system.

Last month, the city submitted a proposal to the foundation for $2 million in grants - while pledging $2 million in existing and new city funds - to reduce the population of 7,500 inmates in city prisons by 34 percent.

In an interview after the announcement, Lerner, 75, said he believes "this administration is absolutely committed to" improving the criminal justice system.

"I'm really excited and grateful to be given the opportunity to play even a small role in this effort," he said.

Lerner said he hoped to begin his new job by the second week of March. He said he must complete work on several pending cases and hopes to be able to spend several days helping the judge who replaces him in what is known as the "homicide calendar room."

A Philadelphia native, Lerner earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Brandeis University and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Much of his professional career was as a public defender, representing indigent people charged with crimes. He headed the Defender Association of Philadelphia from 1975 to 1990.

Lerner was appointed to Common Pleas Court in 1996 but failed to win a 10-year term in 1997. He was then appointed again to the court, and was elected to a full term in 1999 and retained for a second full term in 2009.

Although he became a senior judge, as required by the state constitution, when he turned 70, he remained the homicide calendar judge and always worked days more than the 10 hours allotted to senior judges.

Lerner will be paid $160,000 a year in his new job.

In another justice system-related appointment Thursday, Kenney named Ricardo Calderón as director of the city's Youth Commission, which is involved with a variety of child- and youth-welfare programs.

Calderón, 28, had been the commission's program manager, and has worked with youth programs for Congreso de Latinos Unidos, ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Migrant Education Program.

Calderón will be paid $45,000 a year as director.

jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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