Philadelphia Municipal Court President Judge Louis J. Presenza -- whose leadership of that bench has been marked by a strategy of creating programs designed to deal with common offenses such as gun, drug and DUI crimes -- has been named the 2006 winner of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Justice William J. Brennan Jr. Distinguished Jurist Award.
Philadelphia’s drug court was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania when it began in 1997, but since then, a number of counties across the state have followed suit.
Several years after its inception, Presenza’s pet project was saving local government millions of dollars in penal, medical and welfare-related costs, a study by the Drug Court Clearinghouse at American University concluded.
“It's children not going to [the Department of Human Services]. It's drug-addicted babies not being born,” Presenza, a past president of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, told The Legal in 2004.
“You've now got someone who's out of jail, working, raising their children. No DHS. No welfare. Not using emergency rooms in the hospitals. There's so many positive things that come out of this.”
Presenza is a graduate of Villanova Law School and St. Joseph’s University. Before becoming a judge, he worked as an assistant state attorney general and was general counsel for the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
Appointed to the Municipal Court in 1982 and elected soon after, Presenza in 1996 became the first member of the court to serve as supervising judge of its criminal division before his election as president judge in 1999.
When his first term as president judge neared its conclusion, Presenza sought approval from the state Supreme Court for a second run as head of the Municipal Court.
Technically, under the state rules of judicial administration, president judges of local state courts can serve only one five-year term and may not succeed themselves.
But in 2003, Presenza contacted the Pennsylvania’s justices about the applicability of a 1993 opinion concerning the Municipal Court, which is unique in the commonwealth in that other counties have district justices.
The 1993 precedent held that Philadelphia’s Municipal Court was exempt from the president-judge term-limit rule.
The justices told Presenza in 2003 that that opinion was still in effect and that he was free to run again.
In 2004, his colleagues re-elected him to a second term as president judge.
Presenza will accept the Brennan Award at the bar association’s fall luncheon on October 30 at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue at noon.
Past winners of the award include then-Chief Judge Edward R. Becker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (1998) and then-Chief Judge James T. Giles of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (2000).
--Asher Hawkins, staff reporter