Cleveland Scene was named Best Non-Daily Newspaper in Ohio/Alternatives for 2009 in the Press Club of Cleveland‘s Excellence in Journalism awards. Judges said: “The Scene offers an impressive range and depth of reporting on political, social and other civic issues, as well as cultural news, in addition to the usual ‘fun and games’ fare.”
He is an Irish immigrant (he was born in Belfast, came here at age 3) who became a cop—that’s about the only stereotype that will stick. He spent more than half his 20 years on the force attending college part-time, earning bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees. Four years after leaving law enforcement for a law practice, he became the first former cop to preside over a Philadelphia courtroom.
He is an ex-Marine who is a sucker for genuine remorse, and downright parental in the face of a defendant’s vows to change. Those who can convince him of their willingness to try harder often leave his courtroom better off than they arrived.
But he gleefully humiliates defendants—and sometimes lawyers and even cops—who fail to show the proper respect for the process. For them he plays the educated thug who clubbed the real judge over the head in his chambers, stole his robe and sneaked into court to dispense his own brand of justice.
“I use what I consider, what I hope is intimidation,” he admits. “A lot of criminals, I’ve found, they’re like predators. If they detect weakness, they don’t take you seriously. So I give them The Seamus Show—the no-neck, knuckle-dragging, tough-guy kind of thing.”
If only they could see the bulletin board in his office, with the snapshot of his new puppy, an adorable flop-eared black lab.
— from Famous Seamus, Philadelphia City Paper, 1997, one of three articles for which I was awarded the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association’s highest individual honor, the Distinguished Writing Award. I was the first weekly journalist to win it, before there were weekly and daily divisions. See also The Devil Went Down the Jersey (about the legend of the Jersey Devil) and The Strange Disappearance of Judith Smith, about a baffling (and never-solved) missing-person case.
For one season, Bernard Williams showed real promise. Eagles fans, who’d learned the hard way to be wary of the team’s ability to use draft picks wisely when selecting offensive linemen, had reason for optimism with Williams.
But then came the embarrassing revelation of his marijuana habit, and a suspension from pro football. And then, for all intents and purposes, he just disappeared, leaving fans and even teammates to wonder why a man with so much ability and so much to gain would set himself up to become a mere footnote in team history, another Eagles first-round wash-out.
Last year, Williams returned to football — in Canada. Today he is back in his hometown of Memphis, holding down the left tackle spot for the Maniax of the apparently not-ready-for-prime-time XFL, and dreaming of what would be an exceedingly rare comeback in the National Football League. If all goes according to his plan, he’ll begin his second NFL season at the age of 30.
— from Highs and Lows, Philadelphia City Paper, 2001. This story earned me my second first-place sports writing award in the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association’s Keystone Awards. The first was in 1998 for Alliance of the Slams.
In the long and often bitter war of words between the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Inquirer, one brief, off-the-cuff remark made in a phone conversation stands out from all the rest.
On one end of the line was an Inquirer editor; on the other, a representative of the Archdiocese. The call was just one of many made in late 1996 and early 1997, a period in which representatives of the two city institutions met several times to discuss—sometimes heatedly—the Inquirer’s past and future coverage of the Archdiocese.
In this call, the Church’s PR specialist made a surprisingly candid remark. The Archdiocese is the spiritual home of approximately 1.4 million Catholics, he said, and “we have a responsibility to make sure the newspaper doesn’t tell them things we don’t want them to know.”
What’s more startling than his candor, however, is that he and his associates may have succeeded in their mission.