by Leslie Feldman
Since high school, the Honorable Daniel J. Clifford, 59, Judge, Court of Common Pleas, Family Court Division, Montgomery County, knew he wanted to go into politics. “I wanted to run for public office at some point, and becoming a lawyer was a logical pathway.”
Clifford, who grew up in York, PA, but now lives in Wyndmoor, received his undergraduate degree in political science from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and earned a law degree from the University of Baltimore. He said family law first appealed to him when he started practicing at a small firm in York. “No one wanted to do family law then,” he said. “I got an interest in it rather quickly. You could get in court right away. In a lot of these practice areas, you’re second chair to a litigator for sometimes years, basically doing the research, carrying the bags.”
Once he got into the courtroom, Clifford made rapid progress. He served as a managing partner in the Norristown office of the Philadelphia-based firm of Weber Gallagher LLP and, before that, Wolf Block. “I did not really think about becoming a judge until the last 10 years, and then I believed I could make a contribution, particularly in family court.”
Clifford, who became the first openly gay county official elected in the state outside Philadelphia when he took office in January of 2016, married Jonathan Weinhold, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, in 2014 after more than 20 years together. They adopted a son, Matthew Weinhold Clifford, in 1999. Clifford adopted Matthew first, and it took three years for Weinhold to legally adopt his son through a second-parent adoption. The state Supreme Court made the decision in 2002 to uphold adoption for same-sex parents.
“Things have changed phenomenally,” Clifford said in an earlier interview. “When I first started running in 2008, even though I was ‘out,’ I was basically advised to really not push that (being gay) out in front of the voters. Now it’s completely different. It is almost like it was a positive to be ‘out,’ and I was embraced by everyone throughout the process…
“I ran as an endorsed Republican candidate in 2011, and I reflected on that experience and also really felt in many ways that the party was going way, way beyond where I felt comfortable nationally and statewide. So I made the change about three years ago (in 2013), and within a very short time period, the Democratic Party was very accepting and very encouraging of me to pursue a position on the bench…
“We were the only gay couple for a very long time, and he (Jonathan) pushed me in a very personal way to do that, and it’s the right thing to do of, course, but it wasn’t always easy. To be the only gay couple in an audience of conservative lawyers, it was difficult, but we’re happy that in the end, it all turned out well.”
The judge and his family all enjoy the Chestnut Hill area and can almost always be found enjoying dinner at one of the area’s restaurants at least once or twice a week.
From all accounts, Clifford has been an impressive addition in Family Court because of his no-nonsense approach to dealing with the mothers, fathers and other family members who come before him. “I explain custody proceedings in plain English and approach each case with the child in mind.”
Clifford has received recognition in the area of international child custody on numerous occasions from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program. He served as Chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section in 2013-2014. During his term as Chair, his initiatives were the production of the 70-minute “Judicial Interview of the Child” video to educate judges, lawyers and parents on the custody process (available on YouTube), the passage of Act 102 to reduce the time period from two years to one year for contested divorces (ultimately signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in October, 2016), and he was also Chair of the Springfield Township Zoning Hearing Board for 20 years.
The Wyndmoor resident has a 10-year term in judicial office, so no doubt he has many more notable achievements in his future.