Paul A. Simmons
United States District Court for the
Western District of Pennsylvania
Born: Monogahela, Pennsylvania-August 31, 1921.
Education: University of Pittsburgh (B.A. 1946) graduated with High Honors; Harvard Law School (J.D. 1949)
his appointment on April 17, 1978, Judge Simmons became President
Carter's first African-American judicial appointee and the first
African-American United States District Court Judge for the Western
District of Pennsylvania. Judge Simmons retired on January 1, 1991.
Paul A. Simmons
was born and raised in Monogahela, Pennsylvania. His father, Perry C.
Simmons, was originally a barber who learned the building trades and
became a small house and cement contractor. His mother, Lilly P.
Simmons, was an elementary school teacher. Judge Simmons is the second
eldest child of four. His siblings all pursued careers in education.
After high school
graduation, Judge Simmons worked in the housing construction industry
until 1941, when he went to work in the freight car repair shop of the
Pennsylvania Railroad. He first became exposed to the law in 1942, as
the result of an industrial accident which necessitated the
above-the-knee amputation of his right leg. A lawyer informed Simmons
that since he was not at his work station at the time of the accident,
the railroad would assert contributory negligence, and that the Federal
Employers' Liability Act would not apply to his case.
Simmons' mother told him not to give up and sent him to the Allegheny
County Law Library in Pittsburgh to find a similar railroad case in
which the claimant recovered damages. For the next three weeks, with
the help of the Allegheny County Law Librarian, Judge Simmons read
dozens of cases until he found a Texas case in which the facts were
almost identical to his own. After sending a copy of the case and a
letter to the railroad's claim agent, he received an appropriate
settlement. In addition, the railroad agreed to purchase an artificial
limb for Judge Simmons and to continue his employment.
Shortly after his
accident, the Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Vocational
Rehabilitation offered Simmons a four year scholarship to the
University of Pittsburgh because of his high score on a vocational
aptitude test. The railroad agreed to let Simmons work three days a
week during the school year and full-time during the summer while he
was attending college. During his time in college, Simmons decided to
become a lawyer. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh
with high honors, Judge Simmons attended and graduated from Harvard Law
began his professional career as a law professor at the School of Law
at South Carolina College and later, the North Carolina Central
University Law School. Notably, while he was teaching, Simmons advised
his students on tactics necessary to strike down the "separate but
equal" doctrine established by Plessy vs. Ferguson. For example, Judge
Simmons suggested that such a public school desegregation case be
brought in an impoverished school district where the tax base could not
simultaneously support both adequate white schools and adequate black
schools that were separate but equal. This tactic was brought to the
attention of the NAACP attorneys and eventually used in Briggs v.
Elliott, a companion case to Brown v. Board of Education.
1956, and over a period of seventeen years, Judge Simmons was a very
active trial and appellate lawyer in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Judge
Simmons was primarily a civil litigator and was involved in personal
injury, commercial law, anti trust, administrative law, and other civil
law litigation. Moreover, he represented criminal defendants in over
twenty-five homicide cases, in addition to defending persons accused of
other serious crimes.
In 1973, Judge
Simmons was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas of Washington
County, Pennsylvania and sat as the Presiding Judge of the Orphans
Court Division. In November 1975, he was elected to a full ten year
term on that court and became the Presiding Judge of the Orphans Court
Division. On April 17, 1978, Judge Simmons was appointed to the
district court in the Western District of Pennsylvania, becoming the
first federal judge in Pennsylvania to go through the merit selection
writes: "The sum total of all of my life experiences plus some
God-given 'mother-wit' and the continuing blessing of the Almighty
prepared me to be a judge." To all aspiring lawyers and judges, Judge
Simmons recommends reading "the complete works of William Shakespeare
to learn the complexities of human nature."
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