Tom P. Monteverde

by Michael Scullin

Tom P. Monteverde, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer and Chestnut Hill Resident whose career spanned over six decades, died on Nov. 16 of natural causes. He was 91.

Monteverde specialized in commercial litigation, often accepting difficult cases for clients unable to find another lawyer who would agree to represent them.

“Tom Monteverde epitomized the trait a Philadelphia lawyer ought to embody – integrity, intellect and industriousness,” said Edward G. Rendell, former Governor of Pennsylvania, Mayor and District Attorney of Philadelphia. “He loved Philadelphia, and he and the former City Controller Alec Hemphill were among my earliest supporters when I ran for DA. He fought hard to make Philadelphia a better place. He will truly be missed.”

Mitchell Bach, an attorney with Eckert, Seamons, first encountered Monteverde about 40 years ago, representing clients who were adversaries:

“I was a young commercial litigator; and Tom was a little older, in his prime and at the top of his game,” Bach said. “I quickly learned that he represented his clients zealously, at the highest level of quality work product and with a brilliant strategic focus that I had never encountered in an opponent. My professional scuffles with him made me a better lawyer and developed into a wonderful relationship of mutual admiration and respect.”

Monteverde began his legal career in the fall of 1951 as an associate working with his uncle, James J. Burns, Jr., at Burns & Burns in Pittsburgh. Four years later, in November of 1955, he was recruited to Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis in Philadelphia by Arlen Adams, who later became a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He eventually became a partner in the firm.

Upon joining the Schnader office, Monteverde asked what were the hours at the firm, and Mr. Schnader responded, “From now on.” Monteverde took that to heart, working tirelessly throughout his life. In 1970, Monteverde left the Schnader office to join a firm that became known as Pelino, Wasserstrom, Chucas & Monteverde. John Pelino, the managing partner, had been a partner with Monteverde at Schnader. In 1977, Monteverde established his own firm, which became known as Monteverde & Hemphill.

His partner, Alexander Hemphill, was a Chestnut Hill resident who served as City Comptroller under Mayor Richardson Dilworth. The firm continued in existence in various names until 2006, then known as Monteverde, McAlee & Hurd, when it merged with McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP. Monteverde retired from the firm in 2009.

“He was the hardest-working, most intense, most-devoted-to-hisclient’s-cause trial lawyer I have ever known,” said Dennis Suplee, a partner at Schnader who worked with Monteverde and then referred matters to him after he left the firm. “Fortunately, he infused that same passion into the many younger lawyers who were lucky enough to work at his side.”

Monteverde was a lifetime Trustee of the Dickinson School of Law, now Penn State Dickinson School of Law. For a number of years he directed the Dickinson Forum, a continuing legal education program for small law firms. He served as an officer of the Justinian Society, an association of Italian-American lawyers and judges. He was a member of the American, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Bar Associations.

In the spring of 1967, Monteverde spent a month in Jackson, Mississippi, providing pro bono legal services to African-Americans under the office of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. Before returning to his practice in Philadelphia, he devised a novel legal strategy that ultimately lodged a fatal blow to the Klu Klux Klan.

According to Lawrence Aschenbrenner, who served with Monteverde in Mississippi and remained after he left, there had been no verdict against the KKK since Reconstruction after the Civil War. Whites had enjoyed almost 100 years of impunity for the killing of blacks. When Monteverde was serving in Mississippi, a 65-year-old African American man, Ben Chester White, had been brutally murdered by a trio of members of the Cotton Mouth Moccasin Clavern of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Monteverde had an innate desire to seek justice, but he recognized the futility of a criminal prosecution in Mississippi state court. He theorized, however, that a civil wrongful death suit could be brought in federal court, where “diversity” jurisdiction could be obtained if an heir or other personal representative bringing the claim was a citizen of a state other than Mississippi. Trial in federal court could have a considerably greater chance of obtaining a verdict, especially since the jury pool consisted of both African-American and Caucasian jurors. The strategy was implemented, and a judgment was ultimately obtained, including one million dollars in punitive damages, notwithstanding the fact that the presiding judge was an avowed racist.

Thomas Peter Monteverde was born in Pittsburgh on May 13, 1927, to Josephine Muldowney and Joseph Earl Monteverde. His father died of complications from a burst appendix when he was two years old. He attended Mt. Gallitzen Academy, a boarding school operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, a religious order to which one of his aunts, Gertrude, belonged. He attended Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

At the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve, and was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Military Institute and North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering. Shortly after the end of World War II, he served in Austria as an editor and on-air radio presenter of sports and news. His love of sports persisted throughout his life, as he passionately rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates and the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies.

After an honorable discharge, Monteverde completed his undergraduate degree in engineering, summa cum laude, at the University of Pittsburgh. After considering a career in journalism and enrolling at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, he changed his mind after getting lost on the New York subway and decided that he would be better suited to working in a smaller environment. That same semester, he matriculated at the Dickinson School of Law; he graduated first in his class, Valedictorian, in 1951.

Chestnut Hill resident Jean C. Hemphill, Alexander Hemphill’s daughter and a partner at Ballard Spahr who worked with Monteverde as a young lawyer and eventually as his law partner, spoke of Monteverde’s more personal qualities:

“Tom was an incredibly important mentor to me,” she said. “He taught me how to be a careful and thorough lawyer, to focus most on the facts, and then let the legal arguments flow from there. He very much wanted me, as a woman, to succeed and have a long career in the law.”

Monteverde had a devotion to family, raising two of his own children and then three others, when he remarried after his first wife died. He enjoyed recounting family history and sharing it with his relatives, including on two trips in which he invited 25 relatives to explore his family’s roots in Ireland and northern Italy. He and his second wife moved from Chestnut Hill to Center City Philadelphia in 1987.

In addition to his son, Monteverde is survived by his wife, Beverly Faunce Monteverde; his children, Dorothy D. Kaplan, Robert S. Scullin, Margaret Pyne Monteverde and Susan J. Monteverde; grandchildren Katie and Haley Turner and Jason Poore and many nieces, nephews and cousins. His first wife, Catharine Stauffer Monteverde, died in 1960. He was married to his second wife, Dorothy S. Monteverde, from 1962 until her death in 2000.

A funeral service was held at St. Mark’s Church, 1625 Locust Street, Philadelphia, on Tuesday, Nov. 20. He was buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery, 718 Hazelwood Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to a favorite charity.

Michael Scullin is one of Monteverde’s five children. He is Counsel to the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP, and Honorary Consul of France in Philadelphia & Wilmington. He lived in Chestnut Hill for 25 years.