In the weeks after her retirement from the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, many in the legal community say that Judge Sandra Mazer Moss’ legacy is one of an innovator in managing complex litigation and an approachable mediator of disputes.
Moss, a former coordinating judge of mass torts and other cases in the Complex Litigation Center, reached the mandatory retirement age for judges this year and stepped down from the bench Oct. 31. She is currently serving as executive director of Temple University’s Stephen and Sandra Sheller Center for Social Justice and will begin work as an arbitrator and mediator next year.
Judge John W. Herron, administrative judge of the court’s civil trial division, said Moss has a national reputation for mass torts and cited her as instrumental in the process of creating mass tort protocols.
“She’s had an extraordinary career with the court; we’ve all recognized how valuable her contributions have been,” Herron said. “The one thing about her that sticks out in my mind is her counsel and advice to me as I was drafting mass tort protocols. She had an extraordinary depth and feel for the changes that were constructed.”
Herron, who has known Moss for 25 years, said Moss has been highly regarded in the legal community for decades and will be missed on the bench.
Judge Arnold L. New, supervising judge of the court’s civil trial division, said Moss has “done so much for the court system. She organized and reorganized the Complex Litigation Center, and that was a major accomplishment.”
New said he hoped that Moss’ absence would not negatively impact mass torts in Philadelphia, but added “as wonderful as she is, the system itself is really important. And I think the system is set up in such a way that others can step in and help continue to operate it.”
Sol H. Weiss of Philadelphia-based Anapol Schwartz said that Moss’ departure could have some impact on plaintiffs seeking to try mass tort cases in Philadelphia, but noted that “Judge New is doing a good job.” Weiss added that mass torts are cyclical and “right now we’re in a valley.”
Weiss commented that Moss “did a wonderful job with asbestos cases and she had a lot of innovative ideas. … Every time she did mass torts she was able to fill up dockets and knew how to run complex litigations and run them efficiently; not everybody was happy all the time, which is a good thing, but she was fair.”
In an interview with The Legal, Moss said, “I’d like to see mass torts continue the way they’re going. Judge New and I are close and have a good working relationship, and I am perfectly happy with the way things are going under his watch.”
She added, “As far as mass torts are concerned, we’re still on the cutting edge. We’re dealing with real issues of first impression all the time.”
Moss is set to work as a mediator and arbitrator at the Dispute Resolution Institute in Philadelphia, according to Director Harris T. Bock.
Bock said that Moss has a “storied background” and that he is extremely excited that Moss is a part of his firm. “She is well-known and respected by Philadelphia lawyers for her legendary ability to resolve cases,” Bock added.
Of Moss’ work as former coordinating judge, James Beck of Reed Smith said Moss “brought a lot of order to chaos.”
“People will remember her as someone who was the first real innovator in the Complex Litigation Center,” Beck said. “I’m not going to say that I agree with everything she did with it, but she created something that was new and unique to Philadelphia. It promised a way to deal with all the mass torts cropping up.”
Beck added that he remembers how disorganized mass torts in the city’s courts used to be, and that when Moss “showed up, she found a way to really organize them and get them through the system.”
Additionally, Raymond Williams of DLA Piper recalled Moss’ ability to provide an atmosphere that was conducive to dispute resolution, especially in meetings with plaintiffs and defense lawyers in Brigantine, N.J.
“During the summer months she would have a meeting, very informal, and what we would do is hash out some of the issues relative to the mass tort program,” Williams said. “Each side would have an opportunity to present and it was either done over lunch or breakfast.”
Williams said that Moss’ informal conferences were unique and allowed for open and frank discussions.
JoAnne A. Epps, dean of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, said in an email to The Legal that she is “deeply pleased that Judge Moss has agreed to join the Sheller Center. She brings proven leadership, especially in organizational development, along with a deep commitment to the Philadelphia community, and I know her contributions will be significant.”
Stephen Sheller, managing partner of Sheller P.C. and namesake of the Sheller Center, said it is the mission of the center to build awareness among students of the role lawyers can play in the community.
In terms of Moss being named executive director, Sheller said, “I think she’s an excellent choice; she’ll bring great credit to Temple Law, our city, and to our system of justice, as she has always done.”
Moss said she considered her greatest achievement on the bench to be the establishment of the Complex Litigation Center and her ability to facilitate pretrial settlement in cases, but noted that the time was right to move on.
“The last day I was on the bench and my robe was put away, I went up and sat on the bench and looked out at my courtroom, which had been my courtroom for 18 years,” Moss said. “I looked out and I thought I’d be melancholy, but I felt satisfied. I felt it was time to move on and do more justice elsewhere, God willing.”
Moss said that she wanted to be remembered in relation to her judicial career as someone who was fair, hardworking and who “really cared about the people in my cases on both sides. I still care about them, it was never about docket-pushing for me, it was about people.”
P.J. D’Annunzio can be contacted at 215-557-2315 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PJDAnnunzioTLI. •