Beleaguered Philadelphia judge retires

Judge Willis W. Berry
Judge Willis W. Berry
Posted: September 28, 2012

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. has retired, leaving the bench on the same day he was ordered to pay $180,000 in punitive damages for a civil fraud case.

Pamela Pryor Dembe, president judge of the Common Pleas Court, said Berry had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. He could have served through the end of the year, but decided to leave a few months early, on Aug. 31.

"He likes to do outdoorsy things," she said.

Dembe said Berry did not apply to be retained as a senior judge.

The large jury award was related to a real estate transaction in which Berry arranged for one of his legal clients to take ownership of a property on the 1500 block of Girard Avenue and then sell it to Berry for $1,500.

The property was later valued at $180,000.

Denise Jackson, who had hired Berry as her lawyer in a 1995 slip-and-fall lawsuit, told the court she was unaware that the property had been deeded to her.

She sued Berry, and in 2009 a jury awarded her $9,858.72 in compensatory damages and $180,000 in punitive damages.

The trial judge reduced punitive damages to $20,000, but his decision was reversed by a panel of Superior Court judges on Aug. 31 - which was also Berry's last day on the bench.

In 2009, the state Court of Judicial Discipline suspended Berry for five months for violating ethics rules by running his real estate business from his judicial chambers. That same year, the Philadelphia Bar Association called for his resignation.

Concerns surrounding Berry's real estate dealings were first reported in a 2007 Inquirer investigation.


Contact Jessica Parks at 215-854-4851 or jparks@philly.com.

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