Marvin R. Halbert, 90, retired Common Pleas Court judge

Posted: March 27, 2013

Marvin R. Halbert, 90, of Center City, a retired Common Pleas Court judge who was known for his cowboy hats and who produced, and performed in, lunchtime plays in a City Hall courtroom, died Sunday, March 24, at Pennsylvania Hospital of complications after a fall.

Judge Halbert, who served on the bench for 27 years, was noted for his distinctive headgear, said L. Stuart Ditzen, a former Inquirer legal affairs reporter.

"When you saw a tall man striding around Center City in a cowboy hat," Ditzen said, "it was most likely going to be Judge Halbert."

Common Pleas Court Senior Judge Benjamin Lerner, a longtime colleague, said Judge Halbert "was very colorful. He liked demonstrations in the courtroom. He liked demonstrative evidence."

During lunch breaks, Judge Halbert would often direct and perform in plays.

For three years, he coproduced Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury, performed at lunchtime in a courtroom.

"He would stage regular productions in which judges and lawyers were the performers under his direction, and the public generally was invited," Lerner said.

Marvin Richard Halbert was born Jan. 29, 1923, at his home in Logan, the son of lawyer Samuel Halbert and his wife, Esther.

He graduated from Central High School in 1940 and earned a bachelor's degree in 1947 at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1949.

During World War II, he served in the Army Signal Corps in Europe, working as a French translator.

While in law school, he met Marcia Oleve, a Penn undergraduate. They married in 1948.

After law school, he practiced law with Leomporra, Halbert & Brady.

From 1952 to 1962, he was an assistant district attorney. He later was a partner with Halbert, Kanter, Hirschhorn, Gilson & Corrigan.

He was elected to Common Pleas Court in 1973. Judge Halbert told Inquirer columnist Darrell Sifford that he spoke to every juror in his courtroom and explained the workings of the court.

He said jurors were often taken for granted.

"For all of it, they're paid $9 a day," Judge Halbert told Sifford. "If you don't say something to lighten the mood, you're making a big mistake, in my opinion."

He often invited Philadelphia students to his courtroom to observe trials and learn how the court operated.

In 2000, while serving as a senior judge, Judge Halbert was temporarily removed from the bench amid allegations that during one trial, he strolled the courtroom, climbed on a table to adjust a ceiling vent, and talked on the telephone making dinner and theater plans while witnesses were testifying.

He later was appointed a settlement master, presiding over and settling complex civil trials under the supervision of Common Pleas Court, until his retirement in 2011.

His wife said Judge Halbert, as a child, developed an interest in theater. He later joined a local Shakespeare company.

"He just loved being involved with the stage. He was a very dramatic guy," she said.

His wife said they had subscriptions to several Philadelphia theater companies and would often go to theaters in New York City.

Judge Halbert also enjoyed ballroom dancing. He learned to dance at block parties in Logan, his wife said.

"He loved to dance," she said. "He was a wonderful dancer. We had grand times."

Judge Halbert was a devoted family man who attended all the events his children participated in at school. He was a member of Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

In addition to his wife, Judge Halbert is survived by a son, Andrew; daughters Esther H. Perry, Lisa, and Lee-Ann; and nine grandchildren.

The funeral was Monday, March 25, at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks, 6410 N. Broad St.


Contact Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

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