West Chester >> Juan R. Sánchez, a West Chester resident, was sworn in earlier this month as Chief Judge of the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He is the first Hispanic to lead the court in its 229-year history.
He has served as a federal judge for over 14 years and follows former Chief Judge Lawrence F. Stengel as the 15th Chief Judge of this district. One of 13 original federal judicial districts created by the federal Judiciary Act of 1789, the Eastern District encompasses Philadelphia, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, and Northampton counties.
“My parents taught me compassion for the plight of others and value of hard work,” Sanchez told colleagues when we was sworn in as the first Hispanic judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 14 years ago.
Sanchez, 62, of West Chester, attended DeWitt Clinton High School in Bronx, N.Y., where he and his family lived in a housing project. He was an ambitious student, said Wallach, who told a story about how Sanchez successfully argued with the school administrators to allow him to enroll in Wallach’s upper level English class.
“Judge Juan Sánchez is a thoroughly good man who has served with distinction as a judge on this court for over 14 years,” said Stengel. “He is hard-working, reliable, honest, and true. Judge Sánchez built a reputation for dedication to justice and excellence in his work while on the Chester County Court of Common Pleas and that has continued. He has earned the respect and admiration of lawyers and judges here in the federal court. Judge Sánchez is already viewed as a leader among our colleagues.”
Stengel said Sanchez played a key role in improving the jury process.
“The work he has done with various projects as chair of our Jury Committee has improved the experiences of our jurors and enhanced our jury trial process,” Stengel said. “He is cheerful, positive, and good to work with. Judge Sánchez is open to new and innovative ideas. I feel confident about the future of this great court as he takes over as the Chief Judge.”
Sánchez’s colleague, Judge Paul S. Diamond of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said Sanchez will make an excellent chief judge.
“Juan Sánchez will be a magnificent chief judge,” he said. “His great intelligence, warmth, and devotion to this court will benefit everyone on the court and everyone who appears before it.”
Chester County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Jacqueline Cody, a former colleague, said Sanchez has a vast knowledge of law and is fair.
“I have known Judge Sanchez since the 1980s, when we were young attorneys in the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices,” she said. “As his courtroom adversary, I witnessed his consummate knowledge of the law and his commitment to excellence. But I was most impressed with his genuine understanding of the human spirit and how he remained kind and respectful, no matter how tough the courtroom fight might be. When we served together as judges on the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, I came to know him, not only as a model of judicial excellence, but also as a team player. His enthusiasm for reviewing protocols and procedures in an effort to improve the court system was impressive. He lit a spark for the rest of us to join him in going above and beyond the standards in serving the people of Chester County.”
Sánchez served six years as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he presided over criminal, civil, and juvenile matters before his appointment to the federal bench in 2004. In 2016, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appointed Judge Sánchez to serve as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States’ Committee on Defender Services. In addition to hearing cases in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Judge Sánchez has regularly handled civil and criminal cases in the District of the Virgin Islands.
Sánchez was born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico and moved to the Bronx, New York City at age 12. He graduated from the City College of the City University of New York and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Judge Sánchez began his legal career as a recipient of the distinguished Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship, through which he worked as a staff attorney with Legal Aid of Chester County, and then spent 14 years with the Chester County Public Defender’s Office.