Ronald B. Merriweather, municipal judge

Ronald B. Merriweather
Ronald B. Merriweather
Posted: July 02, 2010

Ronald Bernard Merriweather, 72, of East Mount Airy, a Municipal Court judge in Philadelphia for more than 25 years, died of cancer Thursday, June 24, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Judge Merriweather was the supervising judge in the criminal division of Municipal Court when he turned 70 in 2008. He then continued to sit as a senior judge until becoming ill last year. He taught law at Temple University and Berean Institute.

District Attorney Seth Williams, who has known Judge Merriweather since the early 1990s, when he became an assistant district attorney, said: "Judge Merriweather had a great way of dealing with everyone in his court - victims, witnesses, and defendants. He always treated everyone with respect."

He was fair but tough, said longtime friend Peter Rogers, a Common Pleas Court judge. He would tell defendants, " 'You'd better have your toothbrush and your sneakers,' because they were going to jail," Rogers said.

Judge Merriweather told an Inquirer reporter that he likened Municipal Court to work in the trenches. "Everybody wants to be a general - in Common Pleas Court. But I think you need field soldiers as well," he said. "Urban living is unique, and you're talking about 80 percent blacks-against-blacks in criminal cases heard in Municipal Court. The judge needs to be sensitive to the demands brought against people in these days of high unemployment."

Before he became a judge in the early 1980s, Judge Merriweather had several careers in law enforcement. From 1962 to 1965 he was an agent with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in Cleveland, and from 1965 to 1968 he was a U.S. Secret Service agent. His assignments included trips to Africa with Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, Law School, he was an attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He opened a law office in Philadelphia in 1976 and established a reputation as a criminal attorney. "He was my mentor," Rogers said. "When I left the district attorney's office in Montgomery County to practice on my own, Ron let me shadow him and taught me how to try a case. Now, I lose patience with attorneys who show up in my courtroom unprepared."

In the 1970s, Judge Merriweather was active with a group of civic leaders working to stop gang violence. He could relieve tensions and make everyone laugh with a quick quip, said former gang member Malik Aziz. The judge encouraged gang members to think before they acted, Aziz said, and would tell them, "You need a checkup from the neck up."

Judge Merriweather graduated from West Philadelphia High School, where he was a member of the cross-country team that won the Public League Championship in 1955.

He earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Morgan State University in Baltimore, where he was student council president, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, a star on the track team, and the recipient of the school's Second Mile Award for Leadership. He served in the Army at Fort Hood, Texas.

Judge Merriweather competed in the Penn Relays in college and regularly attended the event. He was a season-ticket-holder for the 76ers and Eagles. He was active in numerous organizations, including the Masons, the Boy Scouts, and the NAACP.

He is survived by his mother, Mildred; a brother, Charles; two nephews; and his longtime companion, Charlita Martin-Latham.

A funeral will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 6, at First African Baptist Church, 901 Clifton Ave., Sharon Hill. A viewing and a Masonic service will be from 8 to 11 a.m. Burial will be in Mount Lawn Cemetery, Sharon Hill.


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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