Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Jimmie Moore retires

Posted: June 04, 2011

After a dozen years as a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge, Jimmie Moore has called it a career.

Moore, 60, spent Friday in his 13th-floor chambers at the Criminal Justice Center packing boxes and preparing to begin the second act of what he calls his "movie in progress."

What Moore won't say is what that second act is, or, more precisely, whether the rumors are true that he plans to run for Congress.

"I'll announce my plans in a few weeks, but I will say I am not through with public life. . . . I want to find a place where my talents can best be utilized," Moore said in an interview in his chambers.

Though the legislature must still redraw Pennsylvania's congressional districts to conform with the new census, Moore's current West Philadelphia home would pit him against U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the city's Democratic Party.

For much of Moore's time on the bench, his talents were utilized in homicide cases: one of a group of Municipal Court judges who rotated into Courtroom 306, presiding behind bulletproof glass over the preliminary hearings of Philadelphians charged with killing other Philadelphians.

On the other side of the glass is a brewing emotional thunderstorm: the victim's friends and family on the left, the accused's friends and family on the right.

All it takes - and it regularly does - is the meeting of furtive glances, a mumbled curse, or a gesture for emotions to become physical.

Inside, Moore said, he waits for that moment when the accused is led into the bright courtroom of reality from the cinder-block hallway of the holding cells.

"There's that moment when his eyes look around and see me, and it's, 'Oh, man, this is the real thing,' " Moore said.

"The bench was great, very rewarding," Moore said. "I saw some folks come along that I thought I was able to help. But at this point in time we should be thinking, what is going to be our legacy?

"That's my frustration now. I know we can do it better, but we have to step outside the box."

Moore's knowledge of the problems he has seen come from more than a judgeship.

"I'm from the projects," Moore said. "I had some angels in my life who put me where I am today. But there are a lot of other Jimmie Moores, male and female, out there."

Moore was born in Hartford, Conn., and grew up in a federal housing project with his mother and younger brother.

His father was murdered "on my birthday," Moore said. His brother, John, who later followed Moore to Philadelphia, was killed in 2007 in an unsolved street shooting.

Despite the temptations of gangs and the street, Moore said, his mother and others kept him focused. A high school counselor suggested he apply to a new scholarship program for African American students at the University of New Hampshire.

He got a full scholarship and joined a vanguard of young black students recruited by the university in the late 1960s.

After earning a bachelor's degree in political science, Moore got a master's in urban education from the University of Massachusetts and then went south, to the Rutgers University School of Law in Camden.

After brief stints at the Brooklyn Legal Aid Society and as Delaware's first black assistant attorney general, Moore moved with his wife and two children to Philadelphia, where he started his own law firm in 1976 at 52d Street and Kingsessing Avenue.

"I started that office with $150: $50 for a secretary, $50 for an office, and $50 for me," he said and laughed.

Though his election as judge was a high point in his career, Moore said he kept looking for ways to help prevent young people from winding up in his courtroom.

He has founded two programs at Eastern University in St. Davids to train paralegals and legal secretaries, including one for ex-offenders.

More recently, Moore has been on the board of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, where he has been looking at creating "green-collar" jobs for the underemployed, college students, and ex-offenders.

"There is a whole new green economy being created right now, and we can be on the cutting edge," he said.


Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Marcia Gelbart contributed to this article.

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