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John P. Lavelle, retired Carbon president judge, dies

Published October 22. 2017 10:35PM

Judge John P. Lavelle, the longest serving president judge in Carbon County history, who during his 23 years in office pioneered computerized case management in the court system, while unearthing and documenting the coal-era history of the court and its treatment of Irish immigrants, died Friday at his home in Lehighton, surrounded by his loving family. He was 86.


He had myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow cancer, with complications from Parkinson's Disease.


Lavelle wrote more than 800 opinions and presided over thousands of cases that ran the entire legal gamut, from zoning ordinance disputes to one of northeastern Pennsylvania's most notorious gang murder cases. He heard a precedent-shattering $6 million libel trial against The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1990, later throwing out the jury verdict and ordering a new trial.

In 1990, Lavelle was appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear a controversial case that presented conflicts for most members of the Pennsylvania judiciary. State Supreme Court Justice James T. McDermott had sued The Philadelphia Inquirer for libel over a 1983 investigative series called "Above the Law,"which raised questions about judicial ethics. At the end of the seven-week trial in Philadelphia, Lavelle instructed the jury that to prevail, McDermott had to prove the articles were defamatory, false and published with actual malice, and that he suffered harm. The trial jury found McDermott had not been libeled when the series originally appeared, but that a later reprint of the series was libelous, and awarded him $6 million. On appeal, Lavelle threw out the verdict as inconsistent, and ordered a new trial. The case ultimately was dismissed in 2006, years after McDermott's death.

Lavelle helped to obtain the funding for the Carbon County Airport and spearheaded that project in 1961. He served as the airport authority's solicitor for a decade. In 1966, he organized and obtained the charter for the former First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Carbon County, helping to bring the county its first federally insured savings and loan association. He also arranged for the financing and construction of the first professional building in Lehighton, as well as Park View House, the first modern commercial apartment building in the town. He served as county solicitor from 1971 until his elevation to the bench in 1978. He was a director on the board of the Lehigh Valley Motor Club, and was a longtime member of Lehighton Rotary Club, serving as its president in 1971.

Lavelle and his wife, Marianne, celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on Sept. 27. Surviving in addition to his wife are four children: Marianne "Mimi" Lavelle, of Arlington, Va.; John P. Lavelle Jr., of Bryn Mawr, and his wife, Colleen Coonelly Lavelle; Jacqueline Lavelle, of Deer Lodge, Montana, and her husband Jeff Pinkard; James Lavelle, of Boston, and his wife, Elizabeth Lavelle; and four granddaughters: John and Colleen's children, Moira, Claire, and Aileen Lavelle; Melissa SanSeverino, daughter of Marianne; a sister-in-law Loretta Lavelle of Philadelphia, and nieces and nephews.  He was predeceased by a brother Joseph Lavelle.


Funeral Services will be held on Saturday, with a Divine Liturgy at 10a.m. at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church, 141 West High St. Nesquehoning, with the Rev. Dr. Vasyl Chepelskyy officiating, with interment to follow at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Nesquehoning with Military Graveside Services. Calling hours will be held on Friday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bruce A. Nalesnik Funeral Home, 57 West Center St., Nesquehoning,  and from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday in the church.

Parastas Services will be held during calling hours Friday evening.

Contributions may be made to St. Mary’s Church or The American Red Cross, c/o the Funeral Home.  Online Condolences may be conveyed at


Services arrangements are being provided by the Bruce A. Nalesnik Funeral Home, 57 W. Center St., Nesquehoning.


See Monday’s Times News for full obituary.


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