Newspaper Articles

Jerome J. Shestack, 88, lawyer and human-rights leader

This article was featured on the Front Page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

By Walter F. Naedele

Inquirer Staff Writer

Jerome J. Shestack grew up with his parents and grandparents in an Atlantic City boardinghouse until he was 7 years old.

Both his grandfathers were rabbis and, his family recalled, he spoke Hebrew and Yiddish before he began to speak English.

But he was a fast learner.

Mr. Shestack, 88, the Philadelphia lawyer who was president of the American Bar Association in 1997 and 1998 as well as an international human-rights leader, died of kidney failure Thursday, Aug. 18, at his home in Center City.

President Jimmy Carter named Mr. Shestack U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 1979.

Mr. Shestack was president of the International League for Human Rights from 1972 to 1991, except for his two years at the United Nations.

But poetry was also a compelling interest.

A 1987 Inquirer story reported that the fourth annual symposium of the American Poetry Center attracted to Philadelphia such figures as Maya Angelou, John Ashbery, Robert Bly, and Donald Hall.

Mr. Shestack, who was chairman of the center at the time, said: “There are more poetry readings here than in any city in the country outside New York.”

And, he said, “I don’t know any other city that has so many major corporations involved in supporting poetry.”

In Philadelphia, Mr. Shestack sometimes shared the limelight with his wife, Marciarose, a news anchor and talk-show host at KYW-TV, now CBS3, in the 1960s and 1970s.

But he also attracted attention for his own work.

“We lost a great one,” William T. Robinson III, president of the American Bar Association, said Friday.

“With his tireless work for human rights and the rule of law,” Robinson said, “Jerry Shestack made a positive difference in the lives of so many, not only in our country but around the world.”

Robert Arsenault, president of the International League for Human Rights, said on Friday that “Jerry’s dedication to the law and to human rights was a guidepost to a generation of activists in the U.S. and abroad. He was a mentor to many and an inspiration to many more.”

‘Natural-born leader’

Rudolph Garcia, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, said in a Friday statement: “In every sense, Jerome Shestack was the consummate Philadelphia lawyer.

“He exemplified the ideals of keen intellect, personal character, and professional commitment.

“He was,” Garcia said, “a natural-born leader and international human-rights advocate who was a treasured friend and colleague to countless lawyers, judges, public officials, and ordinary citizens.”

In a statement Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Mr. Shestack “a committed public servant and a dogged defender of human rights.”

His son, Jonathan, said that Mr. Shestack graduated from Overbrook High School in 1940 and earned a bachelor’s degree in history and economics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1943 in an accelerated program for potential Navy officers.

In World War II, he was a gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga.

“Though wounded in a kamikaze attack,” when Japanese planes were diving into American ships, his son said, “he always credited his religion with saving his life.”

Because lunch that day was pork chops, forbidden to observant Jews, his son said, Mr. Shestack’s religion “caused him to avoid the officers’ mess that bore the brunt of the attack.”

From 1989 to 1992, Mr. Shestack was chairman of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights.

‘Justice for all’

In a Friday statement, AJC executive director David Harris said that Mr. Shestack “was a brilliant, dynamic, and effective advocate for human rights and the Jewish commitment to justice for all.”

“Motivated by his deep roots in Jewish tradition, he championed the plight of those abused and excluded worldwide,” Harris said.

Harris said that Mr. Shestack was chair of AJC’s foreign affairs commission in 1975, a member of the AJC board of governors from 1993 to 2009, and chair of the committee on conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

After his World War II service, Mr. Shestack graduated from Harvard Law School in 1949, then taught for a year each at Northwestern and Louisiana State Universities.

He became first deputy city solicitor in Philadelphia in 1951. From 1955 to 1991 and again from 2009 he was with the Philadelphia firm of Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis.

David Smith, chairman of the firm, said on Friday that “Jerry lived his life according to the biblical command: Justice, justice, shall you pursue.”

Mr. Shestack was with the former Philadelphia law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen from 1991 to 2009 and chaired its litigation practice.

A Schnader appreciation of Mr. Shestack’s work said that he was a founder of the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Center and a founder of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.

His son said Mr. Shestack was “a founding member and the first executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,” the first chair of the ABA Commission on the Mentally Disabled, and a chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid.

Among his honors were the ABA Medal and the Gruber Foundation’s Justice Award.

An active Democrat, he worked in the presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson and was a member of the platform committee for Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign.

Besides his wife and son, Mr. Shestack is survived by a daughter, Jennifer Doss, and five grandchildren.

Services were set for noon Sunday, Aug. 21, at Har Zion Temple, 1500 Hagys Ford Rd., Penn Valley.

Donations may be sent to Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Suite 400, 1401 New York Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.

Jerome Shestack, 86, renowned legal, political & cultural figure

This article can be found in the Philadelphia Daily News.


JEROME J. SHESTACK was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, a former president of the American Bar Association, a mover and shaker in law, politics and culture.

But he might like to be remembered chiefly for his record on human rights.

Shestack, who died yesterday at age 86, was appalled by the violence that people heap upon each other in the world, sometimes seeing it with his own eyes, and ached to do something about it.

As chairman of the International League for Human Rights and the U.S. representative on the United Nations Human Rights Council, Shestack often gave voice to his feelings.

After leading a delegation of human-rights leaders to the violence-ridden Balkans in 1993, he said, “It is a bitter, disillusioning and dispiriting experience to see that people can treat each other with such brutality as we approach the 21st century.

“The human-rights movement is like Sisyphus,” he said at the time, referring to the figure in Greek mythology condemned to push a rock up a mountain only to have it repeatedly roll back down.

But after recording the horrors committed by all sides in the Balkans, he said it was important to have faith that things will improve.

“The alternative to having faith is despair,” he said.

He decried those who remained silent in the face of atrocities.

“It is only a short step from silence to complicity,” he said on another occasion.

Jerome Shestack was a retired partner in the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis. For a time, he was associated with the firm of Wolf Block.

The National Law Journal ranked him as one of the “100 most influential lawyers” in the United States.

Shestack was active in Democratic politics and was a member of the Democratic Party’s platform committee at the national convention in San Francisco in 1984.

He was an important influence on Democratic politics through the years and was a mentor to a number of candidates for public office in Philadelphia.

Shestack was president of the American Bar Association from 1997 to 1998, and chaired the ABA’s Center for Human Rights. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council in 1979, a post he held until 1980.

Shestack was a Navy veteran of World War II. He served as a gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga in the Pacific Theater, and was wounded in a kamikaze, or suicide, attack by the Japanese. He was saved from greater injury because lunch that day was pork and, as a Jew, he didn’t eat that, thus avoiding the deck that bore the brunt of the attack.

In some quarters, Shestack was most famous for being the husband of KYW-TV anchor Marciarose Shestack, who in 1971 became the first woman to anchor a prime-time newscast in a major market.

Her husband managed to keep his sense of humor when he was sometimes referred to as “Mr. Marciarose.”

He also was known for being the father of Hollywood film producer Jonathan Shestack, a champion of the cause of autism in children because he has a child with autism.

Jerome Shestack was a consultant on Jonathan’s film “The Young Philadelphians,” starring Paul Newman. The father’s name shows up twice among fictional lawyers’ names in a lobby directory.

Jerome Shestack was born in Atlantic City to Isidore Shestack and the former Olga Shankman. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1944, and his law degree from Harvard in 1949. He married Marciarose Schleifer in 1951.

As editor of the Harvard Law School Record, he covered the 1948 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia at which South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond stomped out of Convention Hall with a delegation of “Dixiecrats” over a civil-rights plank.

In an interview in 2003, Shestack decried the popular image of the “Philadelphia lawyer” as a “pettifogger,” an unscrupulous conniver. He noted that the Merriam-Webster dictionary listed “Philadelphia lawyer” as part of the definition of the word.

“The pejorative use was very unfortunate,” Shestack said. “I think today the term is not a pejorative anymore.”

Shestack was a former member of the SEPTA board.

He was also active in Jewish affairs. He was on the board of the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee. He was a former president of Har Zion Temple, then in Wynnefield, when it was Philadelphia’s largest Conservative congregation. The synagogue is now located in Penn Valley.

He was also chairman of the American Poetry Center and director of the American Poetry Review, which awards a prize in his honor.

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Jennifer.

Jerome Shestack, Diplomat and Bar Association Leader, Dies at 88

This article can be found at the New York Times.

Published: August 24, 2011

Jerome J. Shestack, a lawyer, diplomat and former president of the American Bar Association who served on a committee that helped derail the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork, died on Thursday at his home in Philadelphia. He was 88.

The cause was kidney failure, his family said in a statement.

Mr. Shestack was active in Democratic politics and liberal causes, writing speeches for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine.

During the battle over Judge Bork’s nomination in 1987, Mr. Shestack served on the bar association’s committee on judicial appointments and was accused by the judge’s supporters of allowing politics to affect the group’s assessment of his qualifications.

Most committee members gave Judge Bork the association’s highest ranking. But four said he was “not qualified.” According to news reports and members of Congress, Mr. Shestack was among the four, a claim he did not dispute.

The bar association’s mixed review provided ammunition for Democrats who wanted to block Judge Bork’s nomination, in part because of what they called his extreme views on how the Constitution should be interpreted.

In 1996, at a hearing examining the bar association’s role in the nomination process, Senator Spencer Abraham, Republican of Michigan, said he was concerned that one of the screening committee members who had voted against Judge Bork would soon be the president of the association and thus able to select committee members.

The reference was to Mr. Shestack, who became association president in 1997. Responding in the ABA Journal, Mr. Shestack said the committee “would, as in the past, inquire only into the professional qualifications of a prospective judicial candidate, specifically integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament.”

Jerome Joseph Shestack was born in Atlantic City on Feb. 11, 1923. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and served in the Navy in World War II. He was wounded in a kamikaze attack but escaped worse harm, he said, thanks to his Jewish faith. The officers’ mess, badly damaged in the attack, was serving pork chops that day.

Throughout his career, Mr. Shestack championed the causes of racial minorities, women, political prisoners and poor people without lawyers. He was also active in Jewish affairs, serving on the boards of the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University.

As a law student at Harvard, Mr. Shestack pressed for the admission of women. He graduated in 1949, and women were admitted the next year.

Mr. Shestack went on to teach law at Louisiana State University. “I led the movement to get the first black student — Ernest Morial — into L.S.U. law school,” he told the ABA Journal in 2006. Mr. Morial would become mayor of New Orleans.

Mr. Shestack spent much of his career at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, a Philadelphia law firm, where he specialized in complex commercial litigation and appellate advocacy.

He served as ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, bringing attention to the disappearances of thousands under Argentina’s military junta and the mistreatment of dissidents like Andrei D. Sakharov, the Soviet physicist.

He is survived by his wife, Marciarose; a son, Jonathan, of Los Angeles; a daughter, Jennifer Doss, of Philadelphia; and five grandchildren.

Shestack worked to make the world better

This article can be found in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

September 04, 2011| By Karen Heller, Inquirer Columnist

When Jerome Shestack died two weeks ago at 88, the city lost that rarest of residents: a great Philadelphian, a citizen of the world, a leader who left a substantive legacy.

“A committed public servant and a dogged defender of human rights,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Countless men and women are better off because of Jerry.”

Calls and e-mails flooded in from around the world, and 700 mourners attended his funeral.

Since his death from renal failure, I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of extraordinary character and work are required to rise above your immediate circle and make an enduring difference.

Shestack was a celebrated litigator, perennially listed as one of the nation’s most influential lawyers. That would satisfy plenty of practitioners, but his work extended far beyond his profession.

He championed human rights on a local, national, and international level, perpetually in the vanguard of fighting for racial and gender equality. Shestack tended to chair every organization he ever joined, including the American Bar Association and the International League for Human Rights, and collected so many awards they are scattered throughout his apartment. One hangs in a kitchen alcove above an ironing board.

He was also a lover of poetry, especially Auden and Yeats, and he served as chair of the American Poetry Center and director of the American Poetry Review. He championed Jewish causes. After one of his five grandchildren was diagnosed with autism, he became a crusader for people with autism, too.

“He came of age in a time when being a generalist was respected,” said his son, Jonathan. “You could move with ease from subject to subject. These days, you’re not permitted to let your mind work that way.”

Born into humble circumstances with a strong sense of justice instilled by two rabbi grandfathers, Shestack was raised in Atlantic City, then Overbrook, graduating from Penn and Harvard Law, where he advocated successfully for women’s admission. As a law professor at Louisiana State, he did the same for African American students. As deputy city solicitor, he helped desegregate Girard College, as well as city swimming pools and recreation sites. As U.N. ambassador to the Commission on Human Rights, he fought for the disappeared in South America and the oppressed in South Africa and the Soviet Union.

“He was very courageous. He had a lot more courage than a lot of us,” said Marciarose Shestack, his wife of 60 years, sitting in their Fairmount apartment, his gold wedding ring hanging from her necklace. “He didn’t much care if he was liked. His concern was being fair and fighting for justice. If he was bothered by something, it was incumbent upon him to do something about the situation.”

He mentored scores of young people. In his spare time, he published pamphlets on politics, poetry, the law.

Although Shestack was successful as a top partner at Schnader, Harrison, he was not armed with the sort of wealth that endows buildings. For four decades the couple rented the same sprawling duplex penthouse apartment on the Ben Franklin Parkway, where they hosted a diverse array of friends to watch fireworks every July 4.

Shestack made his mark by doing, donating time and his terrific legal intellect. He was rarely at rest. He never retired.

“In a society where so many are powerless, where lifetimes are spent in humdrum detail, where few can be actors in the enfolding spectacle,” he wrote in one pamphlet, “we, as lawyers, have a singular opportunity to contribute to society’s needs, to make a limping legal structure work for justice, to revitalize old institutions to serve today’s demands, to grow ourselves, to be part of the vital struggle for human dignity and worth. And to accomplish much.”

This Jerry Shestack most certainly did.

Law Review: Lawyer Jerome J. Shestack inspired many others

This article can be found on the Philadelphia Inquirer.

By Chris Mondics, Inquirer Staff Writer

Jerome J. Shestack, a titan among Philadelphia lawyers, died Aug. 18. He was generous with his time and his expertise.

As a Washington reporter for The Inquirer during the tumultuous years of the President Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings and, later, the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq, I certainly knew of Jerome J. Shestack, the prominent Philadelphia lawyer who died Aug. 18 at age 88.

He had been the American Bar Association president in 1997 and 1998, and earlier had sat on the ABA screening committee that split on the U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork, a result that helped derail his appointment.

He served on important commissions. He was well-respected by top lawyers in town.

But I hadn’t met Shestack, and I knew of him then only in the way that most people whose careers play out on national and international stages are known. A distant, distinguished eminence – important, to be sure, but so shrouded by accolades, titles, and commendations it is hard to get past the resume and hagiography to the real person.

That changed a few years ago when I came to Philadelphia to write about the world of law firms and litigation. Shortly before leaving Washington, I had a chat with Shestack’s old friend William Coleman, the former transportation secretary and key litigation strategist in the Brown v. Board of Education battle.

The first thing Coleman said was that if I really wanted to understand the law as a business, and Philadelphia’s distinctive mix of high-end corporate and plaintiffs’ practices, I had to look up Shestack.

Shestack not only knew that world thoroughly but also would be delighted to talk about it.

Everything that Coleman said was true.

What struck me most about Shestack the first day I met him for lunch at the offices of the WolfBlock L.L.P. law firm was his generosity and graciousness.

Shestack had been all over the world, had served presidents, had written speeches for top political candidates like Hubert Humphrey and Sargent Shriver.

He was a leading human-rights activist and had taken part in weekly telephone calls with Andrei Sakharov to buck up the dissident’s spirit during his confinement by Soviet authorities.

Yet here he was in the WolfBlock cafeteria asking me what I wanted to know about lawyering in Philadelphia and beyond, and what he could do to help me.

 I didn’t know it then, but soon I would learn that this was the essential Jerry Shestack.

I had once mentioned to Jerry that my wife worked as a consultant to corporate clients facing criminal investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; a short time later, articles and newsletters on the latest litigation and Justice Department FCPA enforcement actions began arriving from Jerry in the mail.

His opinions were pointed, and he tended not to pull punches. When WolfBlock folded in March 2009, a victim of the legal-market collapse, he excoriated firm managers for failing to take steps that he believed would have saved it.

What his closest colleagues and friends most remember about Shestack was his steely resolve. Ralph Wellington, a former chairman of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis L.L.P., which Shestack rejoined after WolfBlock closed, recalled that he had tried his first important case with Shestack as a young lawyer at Schnader.

After 21/2 years of grinding litigation, the jury came back with a verdict in favor of the other side.

Wellington was devastated; millions of dollars were on the line, and maybe even his career. But on the way back from the courtroom, he said, Shestack quietly but firmly announced they would file a motion for a reconsideration.

The judge hearing the case was new; he had made some mistakes.

“We pack up our things and start walking back,” Wellington recalled. “He is calmer than you can imagine, and he has already outlined what we are going to do to get this turned around. By midnight, I had a draft motion ready for him, we file it the next day, and 10 days later, the judge reverses himself and sets a new trial.

“What I learned was if you lose at any step along the way, all you do is figure out your next step. He was unfazed by it. He had this ‘OK, let’s roll up our sleeves’ approach.”

Current Schnader chairman David Smith recalled Shestack’s unflagging work ethic. Shestack, a Harvard Law graduate, pressed hard, but never gratuitously so.

“Jerry was tough but never tougher than he needed to be,” Smith said.

He also was supremely practical.

Dimitry Afanasiev, whom Shestack took under his wing when Afanasiev was a law student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1990 and who chairs a 500-lawyer firm with offices in London, Russia, and Ukraine, said Shestack once had told him that he had never lost a case.

Afanasiev, correctly finding this an astonishing claim, asked how that could be.

“He said, ‘I settle the cases which I cannot win,’ ” Afanasiev recalled.

These qualities created a huge Shestack fan club. Among those speaking at his memorial service was Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, who said that after she had gotten to know him and his wife, Marciarose, the former KYW-TV anchor, “I went from being a Jerry fan to being a Jerry fanatic to being a Jerry addict.”

In fact, the calls from around the world began to pour in to Marciarose soon after it was announced that Jerry had died.

“My big sadness is I don’t think he knew how treasured he was,” she said. “He knew people respected him. He was no fool. He knew his abilities. But the outpouring of such love and such appreciation and such recognition. I just wish he had known it.”

And that reflection is quite possibly another of Jerry’s legacies. It isn’t enough to know that you quietly treasure the good people in your life.

You need to tell them.

Shestack demanded the best, exemplified the best

This article can be found on the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Article written by Jeff Blumenthal

Lawyers and human rights activists from around the country are remembering Philadelphialawyer Jerome J. Shestack, who died Aug. 18 at age 88.

I spoke Friday with David Smith, chairman of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis  , where Shestack practiced for the bulk of his 62-year legal career. Shestack had been Smith’s mentor since Smith joined Schnader Harrison from University of Miami Law School in 1975.

“If you attend his funeral Sunday, you will find hundreds of his mentees there and not just lawyers,” Smith said. “Jerry had diverse interests. But he felt the best thing he could do for the world was to mentor the next generation.”

“When I went to see him at the hospital last Thursday night, what he wanted to talk about was that when he came back to work, he wanted to be more involved in an organized way in mentoring young Schnader lawyers.”

Though many, including Shestack himself, said Shestack was tough on young lawyers, Smith saw things differently.

“I didn’t see him as tough but rather insistent that each person give his or her best,” Smith said. “And if they didn’t, the worst thing he could say was that it wasn’t their best work. It was kind of like your Dad saying he was disappointed in you. So I saw him as being demanding of each person producing their best work and accepting nothing less.”

Smith said he learned many things from Shestack but nothing was more important than the biblical quote, “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue,” that became his mantra.

“It was not just lip service,” Smith said. “Jerry never took a position with an organization simply to have the honor on his résumé. He threw himself into everything he did as if it was his first job.”

Smith said a perfect example was in 1963 when he became the first executive director for The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an organization formed by President Kennedy in response to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Shestack became the organization’s first full-time executive director despite having a full-time job at Schnader. The organization remembered him Friday with a statement.

The American Jewish Committee  also remembered Shestack for his extensive work with that organization. In 2008, Shestack received the AJC’s Gruber Prize for Justice for a lifetime of work to “bring justice to the victims of oppression and discrimination.”

documentary about his life was produced.

And Philadelphia Bar Association  Chancellor Rudolph Garcia also issued a statement Friday.

“In every sense, Jerome Shestack was the consummate Philadelphia lawyer,” Garcia said. “He exemplified the ideals of keen intellect, personal character and professional commitment. He was a natural-born leader and international human rights advocate who was a treasured friend and colleague to countless lawyers, judges, public officials and ordinary citizens.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released a statement Friday, praising Shestack for his “commitment to the highest of American values and international human rights standards. Jerry was an effective advocate for the causes—and people—he cared about because he had a rare mix of wonderful qualities: optimism, resilience, humor, a thick skin, and a way of making everyone feel at ease.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *