FRONTLINE: Profile 2

Newman’s Own
The private struggles and public victories of the state’s first (and only) madame justice.

Newman’s Own
The private struggles and public victories of the state’s first (and only) madame justice.

The Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia was the perfect setting for a reception welcoming Madame Justice Sandra Schultz Newman to her new position as head of the national appellate division of Cozen O’Connor. Amidst elegant surroundings and carved filet mignon, Newman—in a new Chanel suit with antique jewelry to match—joined relatives, lifelong friends, legal and judicial colleagues, and public officials, greeting everyone warmly and thanking them for coming out to share her joy.

It was a high point in a life that has endured its share of twists and turns since the 2005 passing of her husband, Dr. Julius Newman, a renowned cosmetic surgeon. A month after he succumbed to a lengthy illness, Newman narrowly won re-election to another 10-year term as a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice. Then, late last year, the Gladwyne resident decided to step down and accept an offer from Cozen O’Connor to head its 50-member national appellate law division.

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Not long ago, Newman had lofty political aspirations. Now she’ll have to be content with dabbling in politics behind the scenes. “If Jules hadn’t been so sick, I probably would have run in the election for governor in 2002,” she confesses.

At Cozen O’Connor, Newman has been known to drink her diet soda from a glass engraved with the official seal of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. It’s the only visible souvenir from her 11 years as the first and only elected woman on the highest court in the state. All the other art objects and photos on display in her office are mementos from her long and happy marriage to Jules, also referred to as “Dr. Nose”—or so read the license plate on his car.

Newman is 68 years old—and in her case, 68 is definitely the new 40. Pennsylvania’s outdated mandatory retirement laws for judges require them to step down at 70, but she’s already moved on. And while Newman isn’t the sort to stay home, family is everything to her. She is fiercely proud of her sons, Jonathan and David, and she adores her daughter-in-law Nancy Newman, Jonathan’s wife. All three are attorneys, though neither of her sons is practicing law currently.

You’ve likely read a lot about Jonathan Newman, the former Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board chairman who, after overhauling the state’s liquor stores to much national praise, abruptly resigned when the nature of his position changed dramatically with the controversial appointment of former Sen. Joe Conti as PLCB CEO. Choosing a far different career path, David owns Yoga on Main in Manayunk and is a songwriter and performer.

Newman started practicing law in 1972, and it was more than 20 years before she entertained thoughts of a career behind the bench. In 1959, she received her undergraduate degree from Drexel University, where she majored in science and minored in art and fashion design. Then it was on to Temple University for a master’s in arts and, later, Villanova for her law degree.

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In 1993, Newman was working 16-hour days as a matrimonial attorney at Bala Cynwyd’s Astor, Weiss & Newman—a job that was exacting a serious emotional toll. Then she got a call from Republican State Committee chairperson Anne Arnstine, who suggested she run for the appellate court. Jules offered his encouragement, and Newman thought about it for two weeks. After meeting with Arnstine and campaign financier Herb Barness, she decided to run. “I found I loved campaigning,” says Newman. “The roller-coaster life of the campaign was much fun.”

A Philadelphia native, Newman knew nothing about the state’s rural areas, but running a statewide campaign provided a thorough education. She even served as a judge for funnel cake contests at county fairs. “I really had fun for 10 months,” she says. “Campaigning made me a much better judge. I believe in campaigning for office.”

In her run for the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Newman won over Democrats with her moderate Republican stance en route to an overwhelming victory. Her service lasted two years and encompassed a myriad of governmental matters, from zoning and land use to utilities and more. Still, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court—67 years older than its U.S. counterpart—beckoned. And given her huge victory in the appellate race, expectations were high.

One of only a handful of states that elects its judges, Pennsylvania has been considering a change to a merit selection system for years. Newman, for one, prefers the system the way it is. “Merit selection is as political as the election process,” she says, adding that appointment by merit would preclude candidates from really getting to know the state and its 67 counties on the campaign trail.

One thing that stands out about Newman’s first Supreme Court campaign was a particularly affecting TV commercial in which she is surrounded by her grandchildren, who ask viewers to vote for their “Ema.” The ad was as warm as it was convincing—and it helped Newman win.

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Remembering Jules
Inevitably, any conversation with Sandra Schultz Newman turns to her late husband, a trailblazing cosmetic surgeon who, among other things, was the first to bring liposuction to the Philadelphia area. It was the summer of 2000, five years into her Supreme Court tenure and a few months before she received a doctorate in public service from Clarion University, one of four honorary degrees she’s received over the years. Jules started complaining of speech difficulties. His colleagues, however, didn’t pick up on it, and neither did his wife. Then, in April 2001, it became more noticeable.

At first, doctors told him it was “emotional.” But according to his wife, he’d never had a “mood” in his life. Newman insisted on a PET scan, which revealed her husband’s condition: primary progressive aphasia, a rare neurological syndrome marked by shrinkage in the section of the brain devoted to language skills. “My salvation was work,” says Newman. “I was able to do my work at home until 2 or 4 a.m., so I was able to be with him.”

Jules had encouraged his wife to go to medical school. But after the children came, she opted for law school instead. And Villanova was only 10 minutes from home. One day, she impulsively stopped by to pick up an application and the law school’s vice dean happened to be walking by. He invited her into his office, mentioning that if she was interested in attending the following semester, the deadline for the LSATs was just days away. Newman kept the whole thing secret from Jules—until the day the acceptance letter came. She was one of only five women in her class.

Newman credits much of her success in law school to Jules, who took care of the kids while she was studying and attending classes. He bathed them, prepared dinner and was generous with gifts when possible. He also took remarkable care of himself. “He ate organic foods before it was fashionable,” Newman recalls. “He was into health food, tennis, no alcohol, no coffee, no smoking.”

All of which makes it even more difficult for the Newman family to comprehend Jules’ fate. In hopes that someday no one will have to endure a similar tragedy, Newman has established a fund in her husband’s memory at Drexel University’s School of Medicine devoted to researching neurodegenerative disease. Make no mistake, Newman is a survivor. To this day, she survives and thrives. As the first woman ever elected to the state Supreme Court, she made history—and who’s to say she won’t do it again heading up the appellate division at Cozen O’Connor?

Granted, sometimes it’s difficult to live up to earlier successes, but that’s one challenge Newman seems to relish.

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