Edward Ohlbaum, Temple law professor

Edward Ohlbaum
Edward Ohlbaum
Posted: March 16, 2014

Despite the big titles he held and the grand awards he won, Temple University law professor Edward Ohlbaum was at heart a trial lawyer and teacher, equally comfortable in front of a jury or a classroom.

An expert on evidence, an advocate for the American justice system, a defender of children's rights, and the author of three books, Mr. Ohlbaum, 64, died Thursday, March 13, after battling kidney cancer. He kept his medical condition private and continued working until the day before he died.

He spent nearly 30 years on the Temple law faculty, during which he conceived, built, and sustained a trial advocacy program that has drawn national accolades.

A tribute to his more than 25 years of contributions was already being planned, and now will be recast to include a memorial, scheduled for April 4 at the university's Diamond Club.

"He didn't care about honors and awards," said JoAnne Epps, dean of the Beasley School of Law at Temple. "He cared about standing up for people who needed representation, and training our students to do the same."

Warm, energetic, unselfish, brilliant, encouraging, gracious - that's how Mr. Ohlbaum was described by Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates in Philadelphia, where Mr. Ohlbaum worked countless hours.

"He brought a real courage to stare down injustice," Cervone said. "I don't mean to be 'Hallmark' about that. He just wanted to stamp out injustice. It bothered him in the deepest kind of way."

The agency represents about 900 children a year in abuse cases.

"We put him on our hardest cases," Cervone said. "Countless experiences: 'What does Eddie think?' And that was the right answer. . . . He had this kind of pole-star sense of the right and just path."

"Eddie Ohlbaum defined the term mentor," U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg said. "There is no attorney in the Philadelphia legal community who has taught more young lawyers about how justice plays out in a courtroom."

He was a go-to expert for TV, radio, and newspaper reporters in the Philadelphia region and beyond, quoted on matters general and specific.

Mr. Ohlbaum offered an informed view on everything from the relevance of circumstantial evidence and the legal mediation process, to whether Jerry Sandusky should take the stand at his sex-abuse trial and how schools might avoid future massacres like the one at Columbine High School in Colorado.

"Why don't we spend a little more time figuring out the root of the problem," he offered, "rather than reacting?"

A native of New Rochelle, N.Y., he earned his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University in 1972. He also earned a master's in religion from Wesleyan in 1973. He went on to get his J.D. in 1976 from Temple, the institution to which he would devote much of his career.

"His dedication to the school was phenomenal, to the school, to its students, to his colleagues," said David Sonenshein, a friend and fellow law professor. "He was totally involved, always looking for ways to improve. I could say 'irreplaceable,' in the sense that I've never met anybody quite like him."

As a lawyer, he tried about 75 jury trials involving major felonies and hundreds of nonjury trials.

He worked for the Defender Association of Philadelphia, representing people who could not afford an attorney, beginning in 1976. He became an associate counsel at Temple in 1983, litigating contract, labor, civil-rights, and libel claims against the university.

Mr. Ohlbaum joined the law school faculty in 1985, the first holder of the first chair in trial advocacy, the Jack E. Feinberg Professorship of Litigation. He became a professor of law in 1993. (To view the Beasley School of Law’s memorial site for Professor Edward Ohlbaum, visit: www.law.temple.edu/remembering-ohlbaum

Personal awards included the Friel-Scanlon Prize in 2001, presented for excellence in scholarship among the Temple Law School faculty, and the Cesare Beccaria Award in 1998, given by the Philadelphia Bar Association for contributions to the cause of justice.

Mr. Ohlbaum was a senior coach of the law school's championship mock trial team, which has won five national championships in the last 13 years.

"He truly has left a legacy," Epps said. "He touched an enormous number of students, and left in them a commitment to justice and integrity. . . . He was a quintessential professional, and most of all a very good friend to his colleagues and students."

Mr. Ohlbaum is survived by his wife, Karyn Scher, a clinical psychologist, and a son, Jake.

A funeral service will be at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at Congregation Beth Am Israel, 1301 Hagys Ford Rd., Penn Valley, with burial at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, N.Y. Shiva will be Monday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the family home.

Contributions may be made to the Pennsylvania Innocence Project at Temple University Beasley School of Law, 1719 N. Broad St., Philadelphia 19122, www.innocenceprojectpa.org/waystohelp/default.asp, or the Support Center for Child Advocates, 1900 Cherry St., Philadelphia 19103. Temple Law School has established the Professor Edward D. Ohlbaum Fund to support trial advocacy programs.

jgammage@phillynews.com

215-854-4906

@JeffGammage

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