Bar Memorials: 2006
The following is a copy of the court transcript of the 2007 Bar Memorials remembering those members of the Bar Association of Lehigh County who passed away during the year 2006.
COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF LEHIGH COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
RAY R. BRENNEN
F. PAUL LAUBNER
HONORABLE ALAN M. BLACK, P.J.
HONORABLE CAROL K. McGINLEY, J.
HONORABLE EDWARD D. REIBMAN, J.
HONORABLE WILLIAM E. FORD, J.
HONORABLE LAWRENCE J. BRENNER, J.
HONORABLE WILLIAM H. PLATT, J.
HONORABLE ROBERT L. STEINBERG, J.
HONORABLE KELLY L. BANACH, J.
HONORABLE J. BRIAN JOHNSON, J.
Monday, February 5, 2007
Courtroom No. 2A
9:00 o’clock a.m.
Lehigh County Courthouse
KATHERINE R. PITOTTI, COURT REPORTER – RPR, CRR
MR. GRAYSON: Please rise, the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
JUDGE BLACK: Mr. Grayson, you may open court.
MR. GRAYSON: Oyez, Oyez, Oyez, all manner of persons having anything to do with the Honorable Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of the County of Lehigh, Pennsylvania, here holden this day, let them come forward and they shall be heard. God save the Commonwealth and this Honorable Court. This court is now in session. Please be seated.
JUDGE BLACK: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. On behalf my colleagues on the Court of Common Pleas and myself personally, I welcome you to this, the annual Lehigh County Bar Association Memorials. This is a special session of the Court convened to honor those members of our Bar Association who passed away during the previous year. At this time, the Court recognizes Erich Schock, Esquire, president of the Bar Association of Lehigh County. Erich Schock.
MR. SCHOCK: Thank you, Your Honor. May it please the Court, President Judge Black, the Honorable Judges of the Court of Common Pleas, colleagues, family, and friends. On behalf of the Bar Association of Lehigh County, I welcome each of you.
We gather today, as Judge Black said, to pay tribute to the members of the Bar Association who passed away last year. Regrettably, another member of the bar passed this weekend, Peter J. Karoly, and he will be remembered at next year’s ceremony.
The annual memorial service is one of the finest traditions of the Bar Association. I would like to thank the Court for its continued commitment. Further, the Association commends and greatly appreciates the services of John Baker, a member of the bar, who has put in effort and selflessly organized the ceremony each year. Thank you, John.
It is my honor and privilege to share this morning with you as we celebrate and reflect on the lives of individuals who lead a legacy of commitment to the law and personal memories for many of us. They were colleagues, friends, and to some, mentors. They were a credit to the profession and will be missed. Today we gather to honor the memory of Ray R. Brennen, who will be remembered by former Judge Edward N. Cahn. And F. Paul Laubner, Andrew D. Hoffman will have the honor of speaking about Paul. Judge Cahn.
JUDGE CAHN: May it please the Court, President Judge Black, Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, officers and members of the Bar Association of Lehigh County, relatives and friends of Paul Laubner, and especially the family of Attorney Ray R. Brennen, who is asked me to speak to you today about his life and career.
Ray R. Brennen was born January 22nd, 1914, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Roy and Amy (Miller) Brennen. His brother, Dr. Robert F. Brennen, died in 1999. Ray graduated from Allentown
High School in 1931. He attended Muhlenberg College and received his A.B. Degree in 1935. At Muhlenberg, Ray was captain of the debating team, president of the pre-legal club, and he played alto saxophone in the band. Ray was an ardent supporter of Muhlenberg and donated his extensive and valuable map collection to his alma mater.
Ray attended Temple University Law School and graduated in 1939. He served a preceptorship under Judge John Diefenderfer and then began the practice of law in Allentown in 1940. On March 29th, 1943, Ray married Margaret “Peg” Leiberman. Peg is with us today as are Ray’s children, Patrick J. Brennen and Sharon Hall, Ray’s son-in-law, and Ray’s grandson as well.
In 1942, Ray enlisted in the United States Navy. In 1945, he was discharged with the rank of Lieutenant Senior Grade. Ray’s Navy career was an important segment of his life. He served in the Pacific and debarked from the ill-fated Indianapolis three days before it was torpedoed and sunk with great loss of life from enemy fire and shark attacks. Ray collected Navy memorabilia and used Navy china and place settings
when entertaining friends and family. Ray Brennen enjoyed an excellent reputation at the Bar. His word was his bond and he conducted himself in the highest traditions of the Bar. He respected decency and practiced in a way that brought credit to our profession. Today, there is much public criticism of lawyers. However, it will be hard to direct any such criticism at Ray Brennen.
Ray served as First Assistant District Attorney and participated in several capital cases. He was Lehigh County Chairman of the Democratic Party and was active in the Presidential election of 1948. He was very pleased and proud that President Harry S. Truman sent him a personal thank you note.
Ray was 20 years older than I, and essentially from a different generation. When I came to the Bar, Ray’s practice involved holding real estate settlements where State Capital Finance Company acted as mortgagee. I had a number of closings with his office but nothing contentious or unusual. My connection with Ray Brennen developed when I was asked to join the Rialto Group. The Rialto Group is an informal luncheon club which was organized by Ray and the late Attorney Joseph Fruhwirth. The original members were Attorney Harry Creveling, Attorney Milton Lowy, Judge Donald E. Wieand, and Attorney Karl Y. Donecker. Later, Judge Wieand arranged for Judge Davison, Judge Platt, and me to become members, as well as the late James G. Kellar.
The Rialto Group, which met at noon on Thursdays at the Knights of Columbus, was named by Ray Brennen, after a line in Shakespeare to the effect of “what’s new on the Rialto?” The Rialto is in Venice, and the
significance of the name for our purposes is that the luncheons were focused on political data which
some might classify as gossip. Later, some thought was given to asking District Attorney James B. Martin and Attorney Wallace C. Worth, Jr., to join. There was some opposition to this thought. The members deemed it important for their applications to simmer to make sure that these prospective members were
worthy. Unfortunately, they were never confirmed; most likely due to the retiring nature of Wally and
Jim’s lack of conviviality.
The Rialto Group meetings were a highlight for the members. Most enjoyable were the annual dinners at Karl Donecker’s house where I would play the classical guitar. There was a spirit of irreverence which prevailed during the meetings. An example is that the Rialto Club members referred to Judge Platt as Boss Platt because of his supposed influence over the dispensation of political patronage in Lehigh County.
After having many luncheons with the Rialto Group, I got to know Ray Brennen very well. Ray was an Allentown guy and so was I. We both went to Allentown High School. We both went to college in the Lehigh Valley. Our families had deep roots here. Allentown meant a lot to Ray Brennen, and Allentown means a lot to me. We would discuss the history and problems of our town in some detail with emphasis on our knowledge of the lore of our community. My bond with Ray is connected to our mutual understanding of old Allentown. Ray and I know the answers to these two questions: 1) Who was the principal at Allentown High School before Chips Bartholomew? And 2) Who were Paul McGinley, Sr.’s three Assistant D.A.’s between 1956 and 1960? I bet the Lehigh County Judges don’t know the answer to these questions. Am I wrong?
JUDGE BLACK: We’re too young.
JUDGE CAHN: The judges say they were too young to remember. Ray enjoyed an excellent relationship with his wife, children, and grandchildren. I’ve had the occasion to review the remarks of his daughter and granddaughter at his funeral. His granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall, is a cadet at the Naval Academy. The affection Ray’s family had for him is evident from their remarks.
Ray resided at 2643 Hamilton Boulevard, Allentown, Pennsylvania, for most of his adult life. This is a very nice property with many trees and a view of Cedar Parkway. Three Rialto club members were close neighbors. Judge Wieand, Joe Fruhwirth, and Jim Kellar lived within a stone’s throw of Ray. In fact, Ray sold the vacant ground to Judge Wieand and Joe Fruhwirth on which their houses were built.
Following Ray’s retirement in 1994, over 54 years at the Bar, Ray remained active until 2000 when Parkinson’s disease began taking its toll. He entered the Phoebe Home in 2002 and remained there until his death in 2006. I visited the Phoebe home on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday in 2006 and played my guitar for Ray and several other guests, one of whom was Mrs. Milton Lowy, the widow of a Rialto Club member.
Because of his love of all things pertaining to the Navy, I will recite Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” as my final tribute to Ray R. Brennen, a lawyer of substance and good character. The bar in the poem refers not to the Bar of a court, but to a sand bar. It is fitting to close with this piece of English literature which has reference to the sea and is always placed at the end of a collection of Tennyson’s poems:
Crossing the Bar
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the Boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The Flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
MR. SCHOCK: Thank you, Judge Cahn. Attorney Hoffman.
MR. HOFFMAN: May it please the Court, Honorable Judges, fellow members of the Bar, guests, and friends. Today we continue a worthy tradition of this Court in our Bar. We set aside time from our busy calendars to recall our colleagues in the law who no longer pass through the halls of this courthouse with us. I have the
privilege to speak to you today about F. Paul Laubner and thank you on behalf of the family for coming to remember him.
In the early 1960s, before his legal career began, Paul served his country as a Naval officer aboard the USS Independence. Mementos of his service graced his law office wall in a place of honor, and he spoke with pride about his time in the Navy. Over 30 years later, when the USS Independence was decommissioned, her influence in his life remained strong and compelled him to travel to the State of Washington for the decommissioning ceremony to see her one last time.
After the Navy, Paul’s attention turned to the law. The notable legal career that we recollect today began in 1968 following his graduation from the Dickinson School of Law. I met Paul 28 years later and wish I had known him sooner. He hired me as his associate in 1996 on the recommendation of a friend, and we worked together for the next four and a half years. During that time, I came to know Paul as a cordial, compassionate, honest, and intelligent man. Each day he greeted me with a warm, “Andrew, my friend.”
On a regular basis, we would converse about not only the legal issues before us, but the stories of the day. His was an intense yet friendly intellectual curiosity. He would consider every point of view without criticism or condescension. The legal issues Paul addressed covered a wide array of subject areas. He served for years on the Allentown Zoning Hearing Board and as Solicitor to the Whitehall Township Zoning Hearing Board. Clients brought to him personal injury matters, human relations board disputes, civil rights litigation, family matters, leases and asset transfers, estate matters, and more.
If someone sought out Paul’s assistance and wanted Paul to represent him, Paul would try to find a way to help. I believe he relished those opportunities where he could delve into an area of the law and challenge those acknowledged by others to be seasoned veterans or experts in that field. He could be David against
Goliath. His open-colored shirt, slippers, and congenial nature concealed a man who strategized and
carefully charted a course to achieve the desired end for his client.
I hasten to emphasize that I never knew Paul to be discourteous or act unprofessionally towards another. His even temperament and unshakeable affability amazed me. In the most challenging of times, he continued to smile and see the best that life had to offer. I can hear the walls of his office reverberate with his kind-hearted laugh and his brief rendition of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”
Over the past month, I have thought frequently about my years in Paul’s office. I wanted to include in these remarks a few kernels of wisdom about the practice of law that he had imparted on me. Four repeatedly came to mind, and with your indulgence, I will note them here.
First, Paul stressed the need to focus on the client and the client’s story. Clients are always people first, clients second. If the lawyer’s focus strays from the client, he might forget about the impact of the problem on the client. A case brought in by a client is more than a theoretical discussion or a question on a law school exam. In the movie Amistad, Paul found his teaching tool. As the time for a trial would draw near, Paul would debate how to tell the client’s story to the jury, just as the young lawyer in Amistad had to take the story of the slaves beyond the law printed on the pages of legal texts.
Second, regardless of experience, a lawyer will encounter times when he understands the client’s story but cannot ascertain the solution. When you encounter such a problem, Paul advised not to succumb to frustration but to consider leaving it on the corner of your desk for a little while as you ponder a solution. The most challenging problems sometimes remarkably find a way to work themselves out. You should not rush to judgment. And challenges should not be avoided. Rather, they must be faced head on. Paul placed before me opportunities to expand my legal knowledge and experiences. In hindsight, I recall fondly my first day in his office. Before me were motions, discovery requests, pleadings, and more. Having spent several years as a law clerk working on criminal matters, I knew nothing about the world of civil litigation. I quickly sought Paul’s guidance. He grinned and cupped his hands before him. Raising his hands towards the ceiling, and gradually separating them as they went, he calmly said, “Fly!”
Finally, we never should forget to live. The practice of law can be rewarding, but it should never consume all of a lawyer’s life. Were we to barricade ourselves in our offices or in law libraries, we would fail to experience the world around us which has the potential to educate us and make us better lawyers and people in the process. I am reminded of a line that I read in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Only so much do I know, as I have lived.” Paul’s knowledge, then, spanned volumes, for he knew how to and did live.
Friends played a vital role in Paul’s life. When Paul and I went to weekday lunches, invariably Paul would meet a friend who would stop to chat. He remarkably seemed to know everyone and had a handshake and kind word for each. Those lunches provided a glimpse of Paul’s friends and the strong bonds that they had forged with him.
Family held great importance to Paul. On a daily basis, I witnessed how Paul and his wife, Ellie, supported and cared for one another as they went about their work in the office. Paul spoke lovingly of his sons, Scott, Andrew, and Matt, and showed that they were best friends as well as father and sons. His sons knew that Paul would always stand by them. And he recounted cherished memories of his parents and family events of the past.
In the office, Paul required no late evenings or weekends. If I were at the office at 6 p.m., he would urge me to go home. Enough time was spent between the hours of 9 and 6 on work. Paul and Ellie were gracious hosts to me at their lovely home. They invited me to partake in home-cooked meals with them at their kitchen table. We also went out to dinner before movies and classical music concerts.
Paul’s love of life, as many of you might know already, included a love of cards. His passion was bridge. On the bookshelf next to the green volumes of Purdons stood the white-covered, inches-thick Complete Rules of
Bridge. He practiced this game whenever time would permit and ultimately earned master points at bridge
tournaments. Cards even brought him into the computer age as he learned how to use a computer to play card games over the Internet.
Paul patiently tried to instruct me on the basics of bridge and hearts. He even arranged a bridge game at his house with several of his friends to teach me how to play. It’s good that he hired me to be a lawyer and not his bridge partner. But through the card games, I witnessed his zest for life and his kind-hearted nature.
Paul showed us how to rise above contentiousness and competitiveness. Paul is a model for us of how we can be civil in a world that all too often is uncivil; that we can be proficient in the law and have successful practices without sacrificing our humanity; that we can be better lawyers and people for having experienced life.
MR. SCHOCK: Thank you, Andrew. That ends the memorials. We thank the Court for its time.
JUDGE BLACK: Thank you on behalf of the Court. I want to express our thanks to the Bar Association for continuing this fine tradition, and especially to Attorney John Baker, the chairman of the committee, for his diligence in arranging this and previous bar memorial ceremonies. I also want to thank you, both
of the speakers, who have memorialized our departed colleagues. They have helped continue a great
tradition and have allowed us to share in the lives of our departed members.
Finally, I want to thank all of you for your attendance today in honor of our departed colleagues, Ray Brennen and Paul Laubner. Both of these individuals were fine lawyers and excellent human beings. They will be missed. Now, do any members of the Court have any further remarks at this time?
JUDGE BLACK: Seeing none then, the official court reporter is directed to transcribe the notes of testimony and to make a digital copy of the memorial available to the Bar Association of Lehigh County. This was done for the first time several years ago, and I should mention to you that the Bar Association publishes these transcripts on its home page at www.lehighbar.org. Anyone interested in a copy of today’s ceremony will be able to read, print, or download it from that site.
We will then adjourn the ceremony at this point, and when we do so, it will be out of respect for our departed colleagues.
MR. GRAYSON: Please rise. This memorial session is hereby adjourned.
(Whereupon, the memorial ceremony concluded.)
I. I hereby certify that the proceedings are contained fully and accurately in the notes taken by
me of the above cause and that this is a correct transcript of the same.
KATHERINE R. PITOTTI, RPR, CRR
Official Court Reporter
II. The foregoing record of the proceedings on the within trial is directed to be filed.
ALAN M. BLACK, P.J.