By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – Judge Kevin M. Dougherty, the Administrative Judge for the Juvenile spanision of Philadelphia Family Court, was practically born into the juvenile court system. For 32 years his dad was a court crier for Family Court in the same Logan Square courthouse where he now presides, and as a kid he would often sit in the back of the courtroom watching the proceedings.
Growing up in South Philadelphia’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish and attending St. John Neumann High, his staunch Catholic parents taught him many things he applies to his work, which includes overseeing 24 judges in two courthouses and about 900 employees.
His own childhood with loving parents is in stark contrast to what he often witnesses in court, and which really brings home to him a quote from Mother Teresa: “The greatest disease is to be a nobody to anybody.”
Seeing this play out in a courtroom every day makes him appreciate his own children all the more.
“I see the anguish in children’s faces. I see the breaking of their hearts when their parents don’t want them,” he said. “When I speak to a child that has never heard the words ‘I love you,’ it’s the incentive I need to verbalize my love for my kids and make sure I squeeze them and hug them that much extra.”
A graduate of Neumann College, Temple University and Washington’s Antioch University School of Law, he started out as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, working mostly with juvenile cases. He then spent six years in private practice, again in family law, especially juvenile issues. In 2001, he was appointed by then-Governor Tom Ridge to the Court of Common Pleas. At his own request he was assigned to the Juvenile Court. The following year he was elected to the court and has been there ever since.
Meanwhile he’d married Lisa Wood whom he’d met in Washington during his law school days. At first they settled in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, but eventually moved to the Philadelphia section of St. Albert the Great Parish, where Lisa had family roots. Their son, Sean, 15, attends La Salle College High School; their daughter, Kaitlin, 10, attends St. Albert School.
Judge Dougherty does not at all regret his carrer concentration.
“I believe in my heart that any inspanidual who takes part in juvenile justice has the ability to leave an impression on children and families that can affect them for the rest of their lives,” he said.
As with many successful people, Judge Dougherty has a number of walnut and brass awards on the wall of his chambers; testimonies of success given by his peers. They are not the awards he shows visitors. Rather, he calls attention to a collection of photos, mementos and drawings given to him by those who have appeared in his court as a thank you for the assistance and guidance he gave them.
“Dear Judge, I would thank you for saving my life. I was heading down the wrong path,” reads one. Another is a proud picture of a young woman who, with the help of the court, straightened her life and became salutatorian at her school graduation.
“All day, every day, we see the worst. Conversely we see the result of sweat equity and the successes. The successes outweigh the failures,” he said.
Another small collection on his desk is of prayer cards – St. Therese, St. Pio, St. Patrick, St. John Neumann and a well-worn novena to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
It all goes back to that home training which carried into young adulthood. “My father used to say, ‘If you are man enough to go out on Saturday night, you are man enough to get up on Sunday morning.’ He made sure we were up and out to Mass, and I think it carried through. Outside of being a tradition it is a necessity. I think my religion guides me in a lot of things I do,” Judge Dougherty said.
Each morning as he drives to work he is accompanied by his rosary. “I say the rosary every day just to make sure I do the right thing, that my decisions will be right,” he said.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.