Memorials

JUDGE MALCOLM MUIR

In The Court Of Common Pleas Of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania NO: 11-01294

IN RE: APPOINTMENT OF A COMMITTEE TO DRAFT RESOLUTIONS IN THE DEATH OF JUDGE MALCOLM MUIR

RESOLUTIONS OF THE COMMITTEE

TO THE HONORABLE JUDGES OF THE COURT:

On the 25th day of July 2011, the Honorable Nancy L. Butts, President Judge of the 29th Judicial District of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, appointed the undersigned Committee to draft Resolutions memorializing the life of Judge Malcolm Muir, and to submit the same to the Court at the memorial service to be held on August 12, 2011, at 4:00 p.m.

The undersigned Committee submits the following Resolutions for your Honorable Court’s consideration:

  1. Malcolm Muir was born October 20, 1914, in Englewood, New Jersey. He died on July 22, 2011, at The Gatehouse, Divine Providence Hospital, after suffering a stroke three days earlier, while working in his office at the United States Courthouse, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
  2. His father, John M. Muir, was a dentist, and his mother, Elizabeth Stabler Muir, was reared on a farm near Salladasburg, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. The family moved to Williamsport in 1916.
  3. Judge Muir graduated from the Williamsport High School in 1931, from Lehigh University in 1935 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy, and from the Harvard Law School in 1938 where he received his L.L.B. degree.
  4. He returned to Williamsport, Pennsylvania where, pursuant to local rules, he was required to serve a preceptorship of three months before the bar exam, and six months following. He received notice about passing the bar exam on or about October 3, 1938, and, having found an error in the local rules which permitted him to be admitted to the bar immediately and skip the six month preceptorship, he was admitted to the bar and began his law practice in the fall of 1938, sharing offices with John C. Youngman, Sr., a member of the Bar.
  5. By 1940, having increased his gross income to $2,200 the previous year, he married Alma Brohard who did his secretarial work at their home. Judge and Mrs. Muir ultimately had five children and were married for 45 years until her death in 1985.
  6. In 1942, he applied for and received a commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy. After serving several months in Navy Intelligence, he was transferred to the Armed Guard where he served as officer in charge of 20-30 Navy gunners whose duty it was to provide protection to Merchant Marine vessels. During his years in the Navy, he saw service upon ships sailing in the North Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean Sea.
  7. For his first assignment, Judge Muir volunteered to serve on a troop ship, the SS Booker T. Washington, the first Merchant Marine vessel with an African-American Captain and an integrated crew. He also served as the naval officer in charge of Navy gunnery crews on two tankers, the Sinclair HC and the Carlton Ellis. While serving aboard these Merchant Marine vessels, Judge Muir taught himself celestial navigation and thereafter always plotted his ship’s position several times each day. In one large convoy which was enshrouded by fog for days, he had the latest position of any navigator, a running fix based on momentary sightings by sextant of the sun and Jupiter.
  8. At the end of World War II, he separated from the service and returned to Williamsport in December 1945 where he resumed his law practice.
  9. He and his family moved to Muncy, Pennsylvania, in 1947 and, from 1951 through 1982, resided in a beautiful old home, Rose Hill, which had been built in 1820. In 1982, Judge and Mrs. Muir moved to Williamsport and lived in a home on Grampian Boulevard where Judge Muir remained until his death.
  10. Upon his return to the practice of law following World War II, Judge Muir’s practice consisted primarily of estate work. When a wealthy client from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania died, it became necessary for him to resolve various federal estate tax issues. Thereafter, his practice consisted primarily of estate work and estate tax matters. He became known statewide as one of the foremost experts in federal estate tax issues. His article, “Marital Deduction Tax Traps,” was published in the Pennsylvania Bar Association Quarterly in 1961, and thereafter was relied upon and referenced by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as the leading authority on this difficult area of federal estate taxation.
  11. In 1949, Judge Muir became a partner in the Williamsport law firm of Furst, McCormick, Muir and Lynn. He remained with that firm and its successors until 1968, when he left and became associated with Joseph L. Rider, with whom he practiced until his elevation to the federal bench in November 1970.
  12. He was a member of the governing boards of numerous local institutions including Christ Church, the Muncy School Board, the Park Home, the Salvation Army, and the Red Cross.
  13. At the time of his death, Judge Muir was the oldest and longest tenured member of the Lycoming Law Association. He served on the Executive Committee of the Lycoming Law Association for many years and as its President in 1954. He was active in the Charles F. Greevy, Jr., American Inn of Court from its inception in 1997, and until his death was the Master of the “Muir Team” in its planning and presentation of programs for Inn members. He was a routine fixture at all Lycoming Law Association events.
  14. In 1946 he recognized the need for members of the Lycoming County Bar to have access to opinions by the judges of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, and began circulating to members of the Bar copies of opinions, with headnotes, mimeographed in his office at his own expense. In 1948, the Court recognized this publication as the official legal periodical for Lycoming County. This weekly publication became what is known today as the Lycoming Reporter, and began including paid advertisements and legal notices required by law. Judge Muir served as the first editor of the Lycoming Reporter for nearly 20 years. The income received by the Lycoming Reporter has long been the main source of revenue for the Lycoming Law Association and has permitted the Association to greatly expand its offerings to the Bar and to employ an Executive Director. It is estimated that the Lycoming Law Reporter has brought in revenue approaching $1 million.
  15. Judge Muir was also extremely active in the Pennsylvania Bar Association, was a member of the Board of Governors of that Association for five years, and was elected the organization’s first individual treasurer. He then was elected Vice President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and, at the time of his appointment to the bench, was the President-elect scheduled to assume the presidency on January 1, 1971. He was unable to assume the presidency because of his judicial appointment. Judge Muir was one of seven PBA members serving on a blue ribbon committee which formed the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, the nation’s leading provider of continuing legal education.
  16. In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon nominated Malcolm Muir to become a United States District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and, following confirmation by the United State Senate, he was sworn in as United States District Judge on November 6, 1970. Noting that his judicial commission was signed by President Nixon and countersigned by Attorney General John N. Mitchell, Judge Muir often observed, with a twinkle in his eye, that despite their faults, these men were exceptional judges of character.
  17. Judge Muir was the first judge from the Middle District of Pennsylvania to be appointed to the Judicial Council of the Third Circuit and during his many years of service on that Council he was the only judge who was not chief judge of a district. For years he served on a subcommittee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, among whose functions was the automation of the federal courts.
  18. At the time of his appointment to the bench in 1970, the federal court system was experiencing significant backlogs of cases as the number of new filings had, for many years, exceeded the number of cases which were brought to conclusion. Long delays in the disposition of cases were commonplace, with such backlogs caused by inadequate case management, increased discovery and discovery abuse, and a local legal culture whereby attorneys followed customary practices in prosecuting and defending cases. Far too few federal judges were engaged in the hard work of changing the way lawyers and courts processed the increasing number of cases filed in the nation’s courts.
  19. Judge Muir committed himself to improving the federal judicial system, and from the beginning of his tenure in 1970, he came to be recognized as a pioneer in the efficient management of cases filed in the federal courts. His case management methods and numerous innovations, applied to cases from the time of filing through ultimate disposition, have served as models to courts throughout the federal judicial system, and the state court systems, as they sought to find solutions to the problems of efficiently handling exploding caseloads while maintaining standards ensuring equitable disposition of the myriad of issues which these cases present.
  20. Among the methods and innovations utilized by Judge Muir were the scheduling of trial and the various pretrial deadlines at the time of initial filing of a civil case; the issuance of a practice order which governed all aspects of pretrial and trial procedure; mandatory meetings of counsel to identify trial issues and to jointly work out solutions if possible; trailing trial lists which eliminated delays between the end of one case and the beginning of another; jury selections on one day for all cases on a list; bifurcated trials with separate consideration by the jury of liability and damages issues; the use of special verdict questions instead of general verdicts; alternative dispute resolution techniques such as non-binding summary jury trials; and many other practices new to the court litigation system. Many provisions of Judge Muir’s practice orders ultimately were adopted as the Local Rules of the United States District Courts for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and served as a model to other courts and court systems seeking to modernize and make more efficient the management of cases. His innovations also extended to criminal cases where he began the practices of pre-sentencing conferences, uniform sentencing for the various categories of criminal charges, and the careful explanation of reasons for particular sentences.
  21. The institution of these multiple reforms engendered great resistance from the organized Bar which was reluctant to change practices of old. Despite this resistance and frequent criticism, Judge Muir remained committed to his principles and to the reforms which he instituted. Ultimately, lawyers came to respect the system and to realize that conformance with the many requirements imposed by Judge Muir resulted in significantly better prepared cases, and more efficient, and fair, trials in those cases.
  22. Judge Muir was also known for the great respect which he gave to individuals summoned to serve, or potentially serve, as jurors in cases assigned to him. He conveyed to the jury the great importance of the proceedings in his courtroom, and the necessity of following the law even if they disagreed with it. He attempted, and often was successful, in memorizing the name of every juror in a particular jury pool, and adopted practices which minimized the wasting of jurors’ time. Anyone who served in Judge Muir’s courtroom had only positive experiences to report.
  23. Over the years, he presided over several major civil and criminal cases. His very first trial, just months after his appointment, was a difficult and lengthy trial of several inmate defendants accused of mutiny and riot at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. In Jordan v. Arnold, a class action brought by Lewisburg Penitentiary inmates alleging inhumane conditions in the segregation unit, he ordered the prison authorities to institute and maintain numerous improvements to the facilities and procedures applicable to the inmates. Four years later, he held the warden of the Lewisburg Penitentiary in contempt of court for failing fully to comply with his order. In United States vs. Gleneagles, a bench trial which lasted 120 trial days, he issued three major opinions in this landmark case on the subject of leveraged buy-outs. He also presided over numerous major criminal cases, including the political corruption case against Pennsylvania Treasurer R. Bud Dwyer and other high political figures.
  24. Consistent with his patriotic service to his country in war and as a federal judge, and his great pride in the United States of America, Judge Muir found particularly meaningful the swearing in of new naturalized citizens. For many years he presented each new citizen at the swearing in ceremony with a copy of the United States Constitution which he inscribed and provided at his own expense.
  25. In 1985, he assumed senior judge status but continued with a near full caseload. In the last two years prior to his death, because of failing hearing, he ceased conducting trials but took on the job of handling all of the Social Security disability appeals for the entire District.
  26. In October 2004, to celebrate his 90th birthday and, at that time, 34 years on the bench, Judge Muir was surprised by an indictment charging him with being “a living legend.” After a lighthearted trial in his courtroom, presided over by fellow U.S. District Court Judge William Nealon of Scranton and attended by all other members of the Middle District Bench, many of the court employees, and friends from the community, he was found guilty of the charge.
  27. In 2008, Lycoming College awarded to Judge Malcolm Muir the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, for his lifetime of service to this community and to his country.
  28. Over his years on the bench, Judge Muir brought to Williamsport 30 young men and women who served as his law clerks. Most of these clerks served two year terms, though in the later years he had two clerks, George Smeal and Geoffrey Ayers, who served as his clerks for 17 and 11 years respectively. All of his law clerks learned invaluable lessons about federal practice and procedure generally and, more importantly, how to conduct themselves as lawyers with honor and professionalism. All went on to successful legal careers in private and public service practices. His first clerk, Stewart Kurtz, is now a Common Pleas Judge in Huntingdon County, while Rick Mirabito, who first came to Lycoming County as Judge Muir’s clerk, is currently serving as State Representative for the 83rd Legislative District, Lycoming County. Every five years, beginning in 1975, Judge Muir hosted his Law Clerk Quinquennial Dinner. The Eighth Quinquennial dinner in 2010 was attended by over 20 former law clerks from around the country, and, of course, by his secretary of 42 years, Sharon Eckman, upon whom Judge Muir heavily relied.
  29. Judge Muir had a keen sense of humor and was always ready with a hearty laugh and a humorous story of his own. He was a reasonably accomplished pianist and composed numerous piano pieces in honor of various friends and family members. To his personal life he brought his ability to organize, systemize, and keep records of life’s little details, and he delighted in explaining to all who showed interest his systems, formulas, and record books.
  30. At the time of his death, Judge Muir had served in excess of 40 years as a United States District Judge, and was the third oldest federal judge in the country.
  31. He was preceded in death by his wife, Alma, and his daughter, Barbara Muir.
  32. Surviving are three sons and a daughter: Malcolm Muir, Jr., and wife, Carol; Thomas Muir and wife, Susan; Ann Muir; and Clay Muir; five grandchildren: Thornton, Malcolm David, Tom, Sarah, and Ian; five great-grandchildren; and his friend and companion of 20 years, Leona “Petie” Miller, the founder of Hope Enterprises in Lycoming County.
  33. Memorial services will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 13, 2011, at his church, Trinity Episcopal, 844 West Fourth Street, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the undersigned, joined in by the Lycoming County Bar and the Lycoming Law Association, do hereby recognize and mourn the passing of the Honorable Malcolm Muir, and recognize and remember him as an exemplary lawyer whose outstanding contributions to the Lycoming Law Association and Pennsylvania Bar Association will never be forgotten, a patriot who served his country with honor in times of war and peace, a federal judge whose long tenure and numerous contributions to the improvement of the judicial process are legendary, and a man whose work ethic, integrity and commitment has been an inspiration to all who have had the privilege of knowing him.

AND BE IT RESOLVED FURTHER, that these Resolutions and statements be spread at length upon the Minutes of the Court with copies to Judge Muir’s family and be published in the Lycoming Reporter, and

BE IT RESOLVED FINALLY, that this Court, the Lycoming County Bar, and the Lycoming Law Association, extend to Judge Malcolm Muir’s children and their spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren, our deep and heartfelt sympathy and respect for Malcolm Muir.

Respectfully submitted,

John M. Humphrey, Chairperson
C. Edward S. Mitchell, Esquire
Clifford A. Rieders, Esquire
Joseph L. Rider, Esquire
Geoffrey Ayers, Esquire