Hill public service lawyer running again for court judgeship

by Len Lear
Posted 4/27/23

Chestnut Hill resident Barbara Thomson, who is running for Municipal Court judge, says, “I have been preparing for this job for 35 years.”

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Hill public service lawyer running again for court judgeship


Chestnut Hill resident Barbara Thomson, who is running for Municipal Court judge in the May 16 Democratic primary election, told us last week, “I have been preparing for this job for 35 years.”

Thomson said she would rather be in Municipal Court, which handles about 100,000 cases a year, than in the Court of Common Pleas, which deals with higher-level crimes, because a judge's decision there can affect the rest of a person's life.

“Judges need to understand that everyone has an important story,” Thomson said. “Their lives are more complicated than what is written on an eviction notice.”

Thomson grew up in Orange County, N.Y. Her father, Judge Joseph Thomson, was the longest-serving Town Court judge in New York state history and was her inspiration to pursue a life of public service. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and master’s degree in policy analysis and public management from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and a degree from Brooklyn Law School.

Thomson and her husband, Bob Previdi, a native of Queens, N.Y, came to Philadelphia 20 years ago when he was offered a job here. He was a public relations representative for Anna Verna, former head of City Council, and for Ed Rendell when he ran for governor. Previdi is also a former director of the Chestnut Hill Business Association.

“Before we were married, we came to Philadelphia for the flower show, stayed at the Chestnut Hill Hotel and fell in love with the area,” Thomson said. “So when we came to Philly to live, we moved to Chestnut Hill and have loved it.”

Previdi and Thomson have been active in the Chestnut Hill Community Association, St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, where Thomson is currently their rector’s warden, a post akin to chair of the 16-member board, and in the Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club. She has also written for Field Notes, the newsletter for St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

In her work as a lawyer, Thomson is not a public defender, but she takes court appointments for a minimal fee. 

“Last fall I represented a Black [man who is gay] who was attacked and beat up by thugs who stole his wallet and laughed at him. Cops came and arrested him, although he was the victim,” Thomson said. “He was so angry he kicked out the windows of the police car.”

In that case, she said, a police officer mixed up the facts at trial, mentioning circumstances that were not in the police report, so the case was dismissed.

“In another case, I represented a woman in West Philly who had been laid off from her job working at a school because of the pandemic. So she got a job as a bartender [at a business] that had no liquor license and was arrested. She was found guilty in Municipal Court of serving alcohol without a license, although she was just an employee.”

Thomson said she appealed that conviction to Common Pleas Court and the case was dismissed.

“It is an inequitable system. If you don't have resources or qualify for a public defender, you don't have much of a chance,” she said. “That is why I am running. These decisions have an immediate bearing on people's lives and for the long term as well.”

Thomson has been endorsed by the Democratic City Committee, Philadelphia Bar Association, and several unions. She has helped asylum seekers coming to Philadelphia from Texas on buses that wind up at The Welcome Center in North Philadelphia, which she has helped with the writing of grants.

“Migrants are treated there with dignity and respect,” she said. “One couple from El Salvador had a 24-day-old baby. It was cold in December, and the parents were wearing flip-flops. They were treated beautifully, given fresh clothes, food and diapers and the medical care they needed. It was like a modern-day Nativity scene. I'm so proud of that center.”

Thomson is very proud of her parents, who she says raised her and her siblings to be public-minded citizens. “It was ingrained in us,” she said. “They taught us that you never know what other people are going through. 

“Many people came up to me and said, ‘Your dad saved my life (in his work as a judge).'”

Previdi and Thomson have been married for 26 years. Their sons, Joe and Willy, attended Jenks, Masterman and Germantown Friends School. Thomson has a sister, JoAnn, an anesthesiologist in Manhattan, and another sister, Mary Lynn, a teacher in the Hudson River Valley. They also have a dog named Bach, 6, “a rescue who looks like a black or chocolate Lab that never grew.”

For more information, visit btjudge.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com