First openly gay male judge in Phila. to take oath today

Posted: October 11, 2007

He's here, he's queer, call him Your Honor.

Backed by a lone bagpiper, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel Anders will take the oath of office today at City Hall - the first openly gay man to don the (judicial) robe in city history.

Today? National Coming Out Day? Isn't that a tad over the top, even for the City of Brotherly Love?

Anders, a serious poker player, says it's no bluff that the timing is purely coincidental. He didn't even know the significance of the date until a friend pointed it out, he says.

In the big picture, it's immaterial, anyway. To Anders - former Eagle Scout, 4-H Club member and son of a Catholic deacon - every day is Coming Out Day.

"Though lots of people know I'm gay, the coming-out process really doesn't end," says Anders, 39, raised in Lancaster. "It's important to be who you are and to be happy with yourself.

"Many other courageous people came out before me. Being gay doesn't define who I am or impact my job in any tangible way, but maybe I can be a role model for some gay kid or inspire someone to get involved in politics."

Formerly a fast-rising litigator at Pepper Hamilton and a member of Gov. Rendell's finance committee in 2006, Anders didn't have to press much flesh for his seat in Common Pleas Court.

Three months into Anders' campaign, in April, Rendell nominated him to fill a vacancy. Anders was confirmed June 30, making him the first openly gay male judge in Philadelphia, said Mike Marsico, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Public Liaison.

It's also a huge deal that Anders, a Democrat, was confirmed unanimously by the Republican-dominated state Senate, says Andrew Chirls, 51, the first openly gay chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association and a partner at Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen.

"That we got somebody through the legislature . . . without anybody squawking about him being gay is a sign of social change.

"The fact that it's not a big deal is a big deal."

Assigned to Family Court (not his first choice, but he's a good soldier), Anders began hearing cases in mid-August. He is the youngest of 93 judges in Common Pleas.

Family Court Judge Ann Butchart, 56, an open lesbian elected to the bench in 2005, agrees that Anders' appointment is another step in the assimilation of gays here and elsewhere. "We're getting to the day when gay becomes an adjective like Irish or Jewish," she says. Anders' naming "is a huge tribute to the fact that we're certainly seen as a significant voting group."

Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal, one of the most politically connected gays in the city, lobbied Rendell and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, among others, for Anders.

"A lot of powerful people were fighting for that position," Segal, 56, says. "Dan was an extremely popular candidate. He was the Obama of the gay community. There's no limit to how far he can go."

Anders doesn't plan to go anywhere. Before his term ends in January 2010, he'll start campaigning for a full 10-year hitch. He hopes it will be the first of several.

"I view being a judge as a career move," he says. "I think the bench benefits from having judges there for 20, 30, 40 years. I'd like to stay for as long as people will elect me."

That shouldn't be a problem, in Brady's view. Anders "is a very classy guy. He says all the right things, and he doesn't offend anybody." Butchart calls him "a genius at politics, very quick at assessing the players."

Anders ascribes his political instincts to "being perceptive about what motivates people. Almost everything in life is a negotiation, whether you realize it or not."

Negotiation was a skill Anders learned early.

The youngest of five - four of them boys - he "was left out sometimes, but we all got along." After 20 years on Wall Street, his father moved the family to Lancaster and became a family therapist.

Anders always wanted to be a lawyer, but he put off law school for seven years "to get the political bug out of my system."

He helped run several campaigns, most notably Mark Singel's gubernatorial run in 1994. (Anders came out that year.) In '98, after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he joined Pepper Hamilton.

Anders is not the only gay lawyer in his family. His eldest brother, Chris, 46, is an American Civil Liberties Union attorney in Washington. Coincidentally, both brothers chose barristers as life partners.

For a woman whose idea of diversity "was an Irish Catholic marrying a Polish Catholic," Mrs. Anders hit the mother lode with her boys.

Greg, 45, a retail executive in Nashville, married a Mongolian woman who was a trapeze artist in the circus. Peter, 42, a captain with the Lancaster City Police, married a Puerto Rican.

Back to the Honorable Dan Anders.

In his world, public service trumps money. He donates so many of his services to the gay community that he jokingly refers to it as "pro homo pro bono."

Jeff Guaracino of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. says Anders "could have made a fortune as a partner, but he chose to ensure justice for the gay community."

In hard dollars, Anders took a $100,000 pay cut from his former salary. Given that he was on track to make partner next month, the difference would have been exponentially larger.

Off the bench, Anders appears to be your typical Macho Guy, aside from his fondness for Wonder Woman. ("She has the lasso of truth, and she's a pretty snappy dresser.")

He pumps iron. He drinks beer (well, ale). He plays poker. He also likes poker TV shows - a habit that doesn't sit well with his partner, Brian Moss. "If I really throw a fit, we can usually agree on Antiques Roadshow," says Moss, 26, the extroverted yin to Anders' self-contained yang.

Micah Mahjoubian, Mayor Street's deputy secretary of external affairs, hosts the weekly poker game. A low-stakes ($2 bet limit) affair, it includes a mostly heterosexual crowd. "Dan's a pretty skilled player," says Mahjoubian, who is gay. "He reads people. I haven't seen him try to bluff a lot. When he raises the bet, I take him seriously."

So does the Philadelphia judicial community.

Wonder Woman and her lasso of truth have arrived. All rise.


Contact staff writer Gail Shister at 215-854-2224 or gshister@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/gailshister.

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