Joseph T. Labrum Jr., 86, Delaware County Court judge and lawyer in prominent cases.

Posted: September 10, 2013

IT WAS A CRIME that stunned the region.

Multimillionaire John E. du Pont, scion of the famous du Pont chemical family, shot and killed an Olympic wrestler living on his estate in Newtown Square for no apparent reason.

Defending du Pont in Delaware County Court had to be a considerable challenge, since there was no doubt that du Pont shot Olympian Dave Schultz on Jan. 26, 1996.

The family put together a formidable defense team, including former Philadelphia District Attorney Richard A. Sprague and former Chester County District Attorney William Lamb.

And then, to add more clout to the team, it was joined by Joseph T. Labrum Jr., who had spent 20 years as a highly respected Delaware County Court judge before retiring in 1995.

As Lamb put it, Labrum had "impeccable credentials."

"We felt he would add dimension and depth to our team, and be very helpful," Lamb said.

Joseph Labrum, who presided over several high-profile cases during his time on the bench, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, and a leader in state and local legal organizations, died Wednesday of heart failure. He was 86 and lived in Riddle Village, outside Media.

All Labrum, Sprague and Lamb could do for du Pont was get him the best deal possible. What made the killing such a shocker was that du Pont was a highly successful and accomplished man, a well-regarded ornitholgist who published several books on birds, a philatelist, and a promoter of amateur sports who built a wrestling facility on his 440-acre estate and took up wrestling himself in his 50s.

Du Pont seemingly had no logical to pump three bullets into Schultz, who lived on the estate. An insanity plea was rejected. He was found guilty of third-degree murder "but mentally ill" in 1997, and sentenced to 13 to 30 years. He died in prison on Dec. 9, 2010, at the age of 72.

Labrum was with the Media law firm of Fronefield & deFuria when he joined the du Pont defense team. He began his legal career at the same law firm 45 years ago.

Another unusual and high-profile case that Labrum was involved with as a judge was that of H. Beatty Chadwick, the Main Line lawyer who refused Labrum's order to turn over $2.5 million in alimony to his ex-wife and went to prison for contempt of court.

It is believed that the 14 years Chadwick spent in jail constituted the longest prison time ever served on a contempt-of-court citation. Chadwick always claimed he didn't have the money, but Labrum and a succession of other judges didn't believe him.

As Chadwick spent another Christmas behind bars in 2008, Labrum commented: "I didn't believe him then, and I don't believe him now. He has the keys to the kingdom. Let him use them and he gets out."

But it wasn't until July 18, 2009, that a reluctant President Judge Joseph P. Cronin Jr. let him out,

ruling that keeping Chadwick in prison had lost its "coercive effect."

Another case that got headlines was that of Sylvia Seegrist, who went on a rampage at the Springfield Mall in 1985 and shot three people to death.

Judge Labrum ruled Seegrist mentally incompetent to stand trial, but she was later found competent after treatment at Norristown State Hospital and remains in prison.

Labrum was born in Delaware County to Joseph T. Labrum and the former Jane Schwab. He graduated from Upper Darby High School in 1944, and earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1947. He received his law degree at Penn in 1950.

During the Korean War, Labrum served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Rosemary Creamer, in 1954. She died in 2000, and he married Gloria Seerdor in 2004. She died in 2011.

Labrum was elected to the Delaware County Court in 1976. After the du Pont case, he continued to practice law. He served as president of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges and the Delaware County Bar Association.

He is survived by three sons, Joseph T. Labrum III, Thomas and William Labrum; four daughters, Paula Booth, Anne Dunion, Maria Hare and Carole Labrum; and 16 grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass 11 a.m. today at St. Mary Magdalen Church, 2400 N. Providence Road, Media. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple.

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