Obituary: Barron Patterson McCune / Federal judge for 24 years earned reputation for fairness
Feb. 19, 1915 - Sept. 10, 2008
September 12, 2008 4:30 AM
Barron P. McCune
By Paula Reed Ward Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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.