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Famous: The Extraordinary Career of
David L. Cohen L’81
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The Honorable FREDERICA MASSIAH-JACKSON L’74 doesn’t waste time. After just three years of study she graduated from the distinguished Girls High School in Philadelphia at age 16. She graduated from Chestnut Hill College in three years and graduated Penn Law School at age 23 – the age at which most college graduates enter law school.
Her parents encouraged her to apply to law school to pursue a career that was, to their thinking, more “practical” than what would have been available with an advanced degree in the liberal arts. “With a law degree I could get involved with government and the courts,” Massiah-Jackson says. “I’ve always been interested in that.”
Her work as an attorney and now as a judge demonstrates her success in integrating the philosophy of political science with the practicality of judicial administration. She is President Judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, overseeing 2,500 court employees and keeping the caseload moving at a steady clip. The Court of Common Pleas is Pennsylvania’s court of general trial jurisdiction. The Court has existed since the colonial charter of Pennsylvania, and is incorporated in the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. The Court presently consists of 90 judges who are assigned to the Trial Division, the Family Court Division, or Orphans’ Court Division.
“The University of Pennsylvania was a very important part of my life,” Massiah-Jackson states. “Professor (James) Freedman taught me administrative law. That might have been boring to others but I was very interested in it.”
After graduating Penn Law School she clerked on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for another Penn Law alumnus, Robert N.C. Nix, Jr. L’53 who would later become Chief Justice of the Court. “Judge Nix was exceptionally hard working,” she recalls. “He was very careful with his writing and with what words say. I carry that with me to this day.”
Massiah-Jackson joined Philadelphia firm Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley in 1976. Including a leave of absence to work for the Commonwealth in the early-1980s she stayed with the firm until her election to the bench in 1983. Known as a quick learner, each experience prepared her for the next step in her career.
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