John B. Hannum, a retired U.S. district senior judge who was known as a strict traditionalist and who once sentenced a defendant to probation with the provision that he "avoid fornication," died yesterday morning at his home in Unionville, Chester County.
Hannum was 92 and had been in poor health since he had a stroke in 1991. Born in Chester, Hannum was a 1941 graduate of Dickinson Law School and a former partner in the Center City law firm of Pepper, Hamilton LLP.
The day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Hannum enlisted in the Navy. He skippered two rescue ships that also doubled as sub-chasers in the Atlantic.
He was named to state Superior Court in 1967 to fill an unexpired term, but lost the election for a full term the next year. President Richard Nixon nominated him to the federal bench in 1969.
During his years on the bench, Hannum handled a wide range of cases, from civil patent-infringement cases to criminal cases involving drug traffickers and corrupt city cops.
Friends said Hannum loved being a federal judge and bunked at the Union League from Sunday night to Friday morning and spent weekends at his Chester County home.
In court, Hannum was a throwback to an era when political correctness wasn't the norm. As a sitting judge, for example, he was a character witness for lawyer Bobby Simone. Simone was acquitted in the mid-1980s on charges of failing to file his taxes.
"I didn't ask him to do it," Simone recalled. "He was a man who did what he thought was right. He went out of his way to help me, and I'll never forget it."
Although Hannum had a reputation among some criminal defense attorneys as "Hang-'Em-High Hannum," colleagues said he sentenced defendants based on his view of the law.
"I never had the feeling he was unfair in any cases, but he was always aware of the fact that in criminal cases there are victims," said U.S. Senior District Judge J. William Ditter Jr.
Sometimes Hannum imposed his own values and morals on defendants.
He once ordered a defendant he sentenced to probation to trim his long hair and shave his beard.
In 1988, he sentenced a convicted drug dealer-turned-government informant to five years' probation, but the probation carried an unusual condition.
Hannum ordered the defendant, Michael Youngblood, then a single father of three children, to avoid fornication and fathering any more illegitimate children.
Youngblood later became a staffer for City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and today works on the campaign of Democratic mayoral candidate Tom Knox.
Hannum was equally as stern a taskmaster at home, too, his eldest son, lawyer John B. "Jock" Hannum Jr., said yesterday. When Jock played linebacker at the University of Pennsylvania, he said, he always tried to do his best because his father expected nothing less.
"If he felt I hadn't given 100 percent, he'd let me know," Jock Hannum said. He said his father believed in "tough love" and had "impeccable" standards.
Even though the judge was a wealthy landowner and courtly gentleman, he connected with the common man.
"He was not a guy who was nice up and nasty down," said lawyer Tom Elliott, who clerked for Hannum in 1974 and 1975. "He knew the janitors and security people by name."
Hannum also is survived by his wife, Nancy Penn Smith Hannum, a second son, Richard P.S. "Buzzy" Hannum; a daughter, Carol Hannum Davidson, and numerous grandchildren.