Obituary: Barron Patterson McCune / Federal judge for 24 years earned reputation for fairness

Feb. 19, 1915 - Sept. 10, 2008


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Known for his one-liners, an imposing demeanor and a penchant for cigars, U.S. District Judge Barron P. McCune commanded respect over a 24-year career on the federal bench.

He earned a reputation as being fair and understanding, even as he struck an intimidating figure from the bench.

The judge died Wednesday at Southmont of Presbyterian SeniorCare in Washington, Pa. He was 93.

First elected to Washington County Court of Common Pleas in 1963, the Republican was appointed by President Richard Nixon and sworn in as a federal judge on Jan. 22, 1971. He served for 14 years before taking senior status.

He retired April 30, 1995.

"Barron McCune was a great teacher, and the bench and bar were his students," said retired U.S. District Judge Donald E. Ziegler, who took the bench in 1978. "He had a twinkle in his eye and a keen understanding of human nature."

Judge McCune never hesitated to make a difficult decision, said Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill.

In 1986, Judge McCune ruled that a display of a Nativity scene in front of the Allegheny County Courthouse could stay because it did not violate the First Amendment.

The case ended up, however, before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately disagreed with Judge McCune and said the display was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

"He was never afraid to weigh in on what he thought was right," Judge Cohill said.

The judge believed in humility, and he often sought to bring new jurists with big egos back down to size, said Judge Ziegler.

"He had a saying, 'Gentlemen, don't ever forget a federal District Court judge is someone smart enough to read a little law and dumb enough to think this is a good job.' "

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce J. Teitelbaum began practicing in front of Judge McCune in 1980.

"Both sides were thrilled when he drew the case," said Mr. Teitelbaum, whose father was sworn in as a federal judge 10 days before Judge McCune. "He grasped things instantly.

"He was everything a federal judge should be."

Standing 6 feet 4 inches and weighing 215 pounds, Judge McCune demanded instant respect.

"Despite this imposing figure, he was a man of understanding and sympathy," Judge Ziegler said.

He described his friend and colleague as Will Rogers incarnate -- full of folksy observations.

He was a fabulous storyteller, often regaling colleagues with tales from his time in the Navy during World War II.

The judge attended Washington & Jefferson College. He later served on the school's board of trustees for more than 40 years, including as president from 1976 until 1983.

He married Edna Markey in 1943. They were married for 56 years, until her death in 1999.

Judge McCune is survived by two sons, James H. of Washington, Pa., and Barron P. Jr. of Scenery Hill; and a brother, Dr. Wallace G. of Fort Washington, Pa.

Visitation will be from noon to 3 and 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday and from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at Piatt & Barnhill Funeral Home, 420 Locust Ave., Washington. Interment will be private.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Sept. 20 at the Church of the Covenant, 267 E. Beau St., Washington.

Contributions may be made to the McCune Family Fund of the Washington County Community Foundation, 77 S. Main St., Washington, PA 15301.


Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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