Baldwin reflects on years on bench
A young child abandoned at the Schuylkill mall is the court case Schuylkill County President Judge William E. Baldwin remembers most from his years on the bench.
“I’ll never forget it, because it was so heartbreaking,” he said.
The girl was left at a toy store by her parents, farmworkers who came up from Georgia. He said the parents, who were never found, took the child in the store and told her she could pick any toy she wanted. Baldwin knows about the case because county children and youth became involved.
“Unfortunately, we have a lot of cases that involve human tragedy,” Baldwin said Wednesday.
The 73-year-old announced earlier this week he is retiring at the end of the year. A firm date has not been chosen.
“I could have retired for years now,” he said.
Baldwin said he is going to stay active. He enjoys playing golf, but he rarely does so. He is married and has three children and seven grandchildren.
He is going to teach a criminal justice course at Penn State Schuylkill in January.
“I’ll probably take senior judge status assuming it gets granted by the AOPC (Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts),” he said.
Baldwin was born and lives in Pottsville. A1966 graduate of Pottsville Area High School, he has a degree in metallurgical engineering from Lehigh University, graduating in 1970. He obtained his Juris Doctorate with honors from the University of Maryland in 1975.
His college roommate had a law school admissions test application, so he applied. He attended the University of Maryland, because it had cheap tuition.
His first professional job was at Bethlehem Steel as an engineer. He went to law school and took a job at a law firm in Pottsville.
“Law is my first love,” he said.
He said law is “the cement that holds our society together.”
Before being a lawyer, Baldwin also served as a Democrat in the state House of Representatives from 1983 and resigned in 1988, according to the website legis.state.pa.us
“I never wanted to depend on politics for my living,” he said.
He was elected to the bench in 1987.
Common Pleas Judge Jacqueline Russell will become president judge when he retires.
“She’s very bright. She’s a hard worker. She’s been a great judge. She’ll do well. The court will be in very good hands,” Baldwin said, adding he’s been serving with her for 24 years.
He also knew her as an attorney before she became a judge.
As a judge, Baldwin says he takes his role seriously.
“We have to be totally impartial and give the parties a chance to be heard, determine what the facts are and apply the law to the facts that exist in that case,” he said.
Baldwin said he will miss presiding over trials and the complicated legal issues that sometimes arise in cases.
He is quick to credit the work of other court employees for making the court system run efficiently.
“The president judge might be in charge, but the president judge does not make the court system run by himself,” he said.
Those who want to practice law should remember it takes a lot of dedication.
“All those papers on your desk are not papers. They represent some pieces of someone’s life they came to you to handle, and you need to devote the time and attention it takes to represent them well, because they are coming to you to help them exercise their rights under the law because they don’t know how to do it themselves. You have to take that responsibility seriously,” he said.
He is thankful the residents have entrusted him with the opportunity to serve in the bench.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time.
“The last year and a half of the pandemic certainly caused a lot of administrative issues that we never had to deal with before,” he said.
For example, trials were held in courtrooms 1 and 7 due to social distancing requirements. The pandemic isn’t over especially not with the variants that exist.
“I would encourage everybody that doesn’t have a health reason that would prevent them from getting vaccinated to take advantage of it to protect themselves, protect the people they live with, their friends and our society in general.”
Baldwin says he has no regrets.
OK, maybe he would have enjoyed more free time.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have taken so much work home over the years,” he said.