Bernard J. Goodheart, the Valentine Judge

Bernard J. Goodheart
Bernard J. Goodheart
Posted: March 08, 2014

Bernard J. Goodheart, 83, of East Falls, the judge who played Cupid to hundreds of couples by marrying them in his City Hall courtroom on Valentine's Day, died Tuesday, March 4, of cancer at his home.

Judge Goodheart became famous for the tradition he started quite by accident soon after taking the Common Pleas Court bench.

On Feb. 14, 1977, a confused couple wandered into his courtroom asking for a judge to help them tie the knot. His tipstaff turned them away; the judge was busy with a jury trial.

But during a break in testimony, Judge Goodheart invited the two back so that he could marry them.

"How could I turn them down?" he told a reporter. "I wouldn't be worthy of my name."

The idea caught on, and for the next 23 years, the so-called Valentine Judge joyfully presided over an estimated 500 weddings in a courtroom decked with hearts and flowers.

Interest was so keen that the judge had to limit the field to 24 couples per Valentine's Day. Each received advice on how to be a good spouse, and a certificate dated Feb. 14 with a red, heart-shape sticker. The judge called the ceremonies "hard work, but fun."

In 2000, the judge announced that he had heard his last "I do," and turned the marriage duties over to his friend, Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart.

While Judge Goodheart loved performing the annual nuptials, he was most proud of his long career presiding over civil cases, his family said.

Elected as a Democrat in 1975, he served from 1976 until 2005. For the last five years, he was a senior judge. He was known for his skill in settling disputes.

"As with his marital advice, a theme of his judicial work was compromise," said his son Adam. "He had a reputation throughout the legal community as someone who could coax even the most stubborn plaintiffs and defendants into settling their cases out of court."

In 1983, he resolved a transit strike that had crippled the city for several months.

Several years later, he threw out an $11 million libel suit filed by former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo against the Welcomat, a weekly newspaper that had published a piece comparing Rizzo to Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Gov. George C. Wallace, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and State Sen. Milton Street.

"We're an open society," Judge Goodheart ruled. "The article written was opinion about a public figure, which is constitutionally protected."

A Philadelphia native, the judge was the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe. The family name was Guthartz, or "good heart" in Yiddish. Nathan, the judge's father, changed it to Goodheart when he became a U.S. citizen in 1927.

The judge graduated from Central High School in 1948 and earned a bachelor of science degree in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1952. He completed a law degree at Penn's Law School in 1955.

From 1958 through 1965, he was an assistant district attorney in the major crimes unit, serving under Philadelphia District Attorneys Victor Hugo Blanc and James C. Crumlish Jr.

Among Judge Goodheart's honors were the first annual President Judge's Award "for extraordinary service to the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania" and a citation from the Philadelphia Bar Association for 50 years of service. Mayor John F. Street also presented him with the Philadelphia Bowl in 2005.

After retiring from the bench, Judge Goodheart worked as an arbitrator and mediator in private practice. He taught and mentored young judges and lawyers.

In his spare time, Judge Goodheart enjoyed painting, traveling, gardening, winemaking, and cooking. He especially liked to pickle green tomatoes and cucumbers from his garden, using an old family recipe.

Surviving, in addition to his son, are sons Harry and Mark; his former wife of 30 years, the former Harriet Kaufman; a brother; and two granddaughters.

A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Monday, March 10, at the Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St., Philadelphia 19147. Interment will follow in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Donations may be made to the Fleisher Art Memorial.


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