Bob Heim speaks with Dee Spagnuolo, left, and Sasha Ballen, laintiffs he is representing in a same-sex marriage lawsuit. (Photo by Emma Jacobs for WHYY/Newsworks.org)
Bob Heim was involved in some of the most high-profile cases in Pennsylvania and across the country in 2013.
Last year, Heim, a partner at Philadelphia-based Dechert, represented dozens of same-sex couples in their attempt to invalidate the Pennsylvania law banning same-sex marriage, as well as the National Football League in concussion litigation.
In addition, Heim represented the majority owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com in their bid for control over the publications and website and counseled several Pennsylvania judges in their challenge to the state’s mandatory retirement law.
All of this was in addition to Heim’s busy commercial litigation practice.
But Heim, who is no stranger to multitasking, said he has always taken his busy schedule in stride.
“It doesn’t bother me too much, having to argue in one place one day and another case another day,” Heim said. “I don’t have high stress levels in that regard, I guess because I enjoy my work so much and I believe so strongly in these cases.”
Heim also credited his colleagues at Dechert, including the associates who work closely with him, for helping him manage the daunting caseload.
“When you have a very strong team to back you up, it makes it far easier,” Heim said.
Heim’s schedule is not likely to get lighter anytime soon.
The same-sex marriage case is ongoing in the Commonwealth Court, the Inquirer case has been moved to the Delaware Court of Chancery, the judges’ federal constitutional challenge to the state’s retirement law is now proceeding to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the NFL suit is continuing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
While each of these cases has and will likely continue to make headlines across both the state and the country, Heim said he doesn’t let the media attention distract him.
“I’ve never really focused on it all that much,” Heim said. “The cases came to me and I thought about whether the issue was the right issue.”
Heim said the same-sex marriage case is a good example of focusing on the importance of the issue at hand.
When plaintiff Sasha Ballen approached him about taking the case, Heim said he knew immediately that it would likely consume a significant amount of time and resources.
But Heim said he also knew the case was worth the investment.
“This is the right time for this issue to advance and for Pennsylvania to try to move into the sunlight of being socially forward instead of socially backward,” Heim said.
Heim also said that despite the eclectic mix of litigation he’s handling at any given moment, he doesn’t tailor his approach to suit each client, even where there are “strong personalities” involved, such as in the Inquirer case.
“Occasionally, I’ll have a client where I have to tell them, ‘If you want a lawyer who tells you only what you want to hear, I’m probably not your lawyer,’” Heim said, adding, “I don’t try to vary how I approach things based on the client. Even if I wanted to, I’m not sure I’d know how to after 40 years.”
For as busy as Heim’s practice continues to be, he also devotes considerable time and energy to his work in the community, particularly his role as chair of the board of trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Heim said that as a kid growing up in the Juniata Park-Feltonville section of Philadelphia, he spent countless hours at the local library branch.
“The library was a very important part of my life as a young boy,” Heim said. “As I grew older and became an adult, I realized that libraries can be a meaningful safe haven and educational resource outside of the school and they can make a big difference in people’s lives.”
When the recession hit in 2008, Heim said, the city’s libraries endured significant funding cuts that hindered their ability to remain open on Saturdays.
But, as chair of the Free Library’s board of trustees, Heim successfully lobbied Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter in 2012 and 2013 for the funding needed to keep 50 public libraries open on Saturdays.
“I can’t tell you how much that pleases me,” Heim said. “One of my little things on Saturdays is that my wife and I get in the car and drive to a library and talk to librarians and the kids there to get a sense of whether that library is serving their needs and how can we make it better. We always have a great time.”
Heim also remains active in his role as chair of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, the nonprofit court watchdog organization he helped found in 1988.
Heim said PMC’s work remains “close to my heart,” particularly the organization’s ongoing push for merit selection.
“I believe in it so strongly, I want to do everything I can to make it happen,” Heim said.
Successfully bringing merit selection to Pennsylvania, Heim said, “would make me feel like we’ve made an enormous stride as a profession.” •