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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

Ex-Huron judge lauded for his fairness, efficiency

NORWALK, Ohio - Phillip M. White, Jr., 79, a longtime local lawyer who during his term as a Huron County Common Pleas Court judge broke a backlog of cases that jammed the court's docket, died Monday in the Hospice Unit of University Hospital, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He died from complications of Parkinson's disease and diabetes.

He and his wife, Beverly, lived in Coconut Creek, Fla., the last eight years.

"He was a very good judge, and he was a very fair man, and what described him most was efficiency," said Judge James W. Conway of the Huron County Common Pleas Court.

"He was good at making sure that the attorneys stayed on top of their cases and got them done in a timely fashion," said Judge Conway, who took the bench in May, 2007.

Judge White did not seek re-election in November, 1994, and stepped down in May, 1995, at the end of his six-year term.

When he took the Common Pleas bench in 1989, he found hundreds of civil cases that exceeded Ohio Supreme Court time limits.

"He realized the frustrations of being a trial lawyer when things aren't running smoothly," said his wife, Beverly, a lawyer with whom he shared a practice for 28 years. "He was dedicated to the proposition that things should be disposed of properly."

His solution, his wife said, was to hold mass hearings - some referred to them as cattle calls - in which several dozen lawyers and clients appeared before him or either of two part-time referees.

He or the referees found out the status of the case and pressed lawyers to commit to an end date. Whether a lawyer said a case would take three months or two years, Judge White set that as the goal.

Cases were settled; cases were dismissed. In those that proceeded, pretrial conferences often became conference telephone calls. He was punctual, and expected hearings and trials to start when scheduled. The docket became current within two years.

"Our court currently owes a debt to him as far as being able to clear that docket and really set up a good caseload management system we use today," Judge Conway said.

"He had a vision of how the court should run. He imposed his vision on the attorneys that were in front of him," Judge Conway said as he recalled practicing before Judge White as a young lawyer.

Judge White had no problem with being in charge, his wife said.

"He could make a decision," she said. "He didn't agonize about things."

But he also "was quick with a nice, kind word to anyone who was beginning practice there," Judge Conway said. "I was a new attorney at the time. He and his wife were good folks to work with in the local community."

Judge White is credited with putting in the court's first computer system and making sure two courtrooms were renovated. He also wrote a manual for operating a Common Pleas Court, which other courts in the state have relied on, Judge Conway said.

Judge White and his wife set up their law practice in Norwalk after they graduated from Ohio Northern University's law school.

From 1961-1964, he was a county assistant prosecutor, a part-time position that allowed him to continue his law practice.

He was elected Huron County judge, also a part-time position, which he held from 1965-1975. He ran unsuccessfully for judge of Norwalk Municipal Court in 1987.

The son of Mildred and Phillip M. White, he was born Jan. 28, 1930, in New London, Ohio, and was a 1948 graduate of New London High School. He was a 1953 graduate of Bowling Green State University, where he was a wide receiver on the football team and a hurdler on the track team.

He served stateside in the Army. He ran a family business for two years before he and his wife went to law school.

Surviving are his wife, Beverly, whom he married July 27, 1951; sons, Philip and Blake; brother, David, and four grandchildren.

Services will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow in the Walker Funeral Home, Norwalk, where visitation will be from 3 to 6 p.m. today and after 9 a.m. tomorrow.

The family suggests tributes to the Salvation Army.



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