Judge dedicated to children calls it a career Abram Frank Reynolds saw no higher professional calling than Family Court.

Posted: July 19, 2003

Judge Abram Frank Reynolds - whose passion for the city's children and toughness on the bench made him Philadelphia's best-known Family Court jurist - is retiring at the end of the month after 17 years on the bench.

Reynolds' reputation on the street led mothers to bring their children before him for straight talk and straightening out.

Others - such as Kevin Bell - were brought before Reynolds by law enforcement.

"Judge Reynolds, you're a great man," Bell told the 65-year-old judge at a retirement ceremony yesterday in Family Court. "All I can think of is all the things you've done for me, giving me support - support that I had missed out on most of my life."

Bell, 22, is now a juvenile counselor and amateur boxer in Lancaster.

Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, called Reynolds "a friend of kids, a friend of families, and a loyal father to the many boys to come before him."

Reynolds has presided over some of the highest-profile juvenile cases in recent years. One - the August 2000 rape of an 11-year-old black girl by two white teenagers - brought the African American jurist bitter, racially charged criticism and threats.

Demonstrators outside Family Court called him an "Uncle Tom" and a traitor to his race and said he was too lenient in sentencing the boys. Reynolds ordered the youths to undergo sex-offender treatment, residential treatment, house arrest, and lengthy court supervision. An investigation by the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board concluded that Reynolds handled the case properly.

In an interview two years ago, Reynolds said: "I didn't run for office to be an avenging angel. I ran for office to bring justice. When justice is afforded, people win."

For years, Reynolds was the absolute master of Courtroom D in Family Court, which he called "home." He has long told supervising judges that he would quit rather than be transferred from juvenile court to a more prestigious assignment.

Deputy District Attorney John Delaney told the crowd at the retirement ceremony that over the years, 507 young assistant district attorneys were assigned to Courtroom D to be schooled by the sometimes fearsome Reynolds.

"The only sin in front of Judge Reynolds was to be unprepared," Delaney said. "God help you if you're unprepared."

A tall and imposing man of military muscle, Reynolds would not brook flimsy excuses from either lawyers or troubled youths.

With his booming and stern voice, he could make them quake.

An Air Force veteran, Reynolds began practicing law in Philadelphia 30 years ago as an assistant public defender.

In that job, he learned that more than a dozen staffers at the Youth Study Center were abusing children in their charge, and he led an investigation that resulted in prosecutions.

"He was going to save some kids in spite of themselves, in spite of their families, in spite of their lawyers, and in spite of growing up in Philadelphia," Delaney said.

"I can't come out of this building and walk down the street without having some child tell me I've saved them from a worse fate," Reynolds said yesterday.

Contact staff writer Jacqueline Soteropoulos at 215-854-4497 or jsoteropoulos@phillynews.com.

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