Judge Shawn Meyers reflects on his new role
Only a few months into the job as judge with the Court of Common Pleas of the 39th Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Franklin County native Shawn Meyers said he was where he was meant to be.
The paths he took since childhood, and the influence of those around him, assuredly led to a seat on the bench in 2010.
Meyers was elected to a 10-year term nearly a year ago on Nov. 3 by county voters. He and Angela Krom were sworn in Jan. 4, giving the district five judges for the first time. They share four courtrooms in Chambersburg, and also serve Fulton County in McConnellsburg. The judicial panel also includes President Judge Douglas Herman, Carol Van Horn and Richard Walsh.
Meyers, a lawyer for 17 years, has found his new duties an enjoyable challenge.
"I have new, unique cases and fact patterns that I'm asked to render judgment on," he said. "It's truly humbling to know you have the authority to dispense justice immediately for parties, unlike legislative bodies that develop and implement policy."
He is reminded daily of the Pennsylvania and United States constitutions, which reserve rights to citizens, grant citizen rights, and are the framework for the statutes and laws that govern society. His cases analyze how those rights are enforced or denied.
Switching careers at age 41 brought the large workload Meyers expected. It is necessary "to ensure timely administration of cases," he acknowledged. The public is not privy to the preparation a judge undergoes before presiding in court. He has to review motions filed by attorneys, prepare for hearings, read opinions on cases and appeals, handle administrative tasks, participate on several judicial committees, and supervise employees, all outside of the nearly four days out of a five day work week he is on the bench.
In his role as judge, Meyers hears civil and criminal cases, family law, orphans court (related to guardianships, estates, trusts, parental rights and adoptions), and other matters. Some trials are determined by a jury, so the judge advises the jury of the law and the jury conducts the fact-finding, then determines the guilt or innocence of the accused.
Meyers respects the process of individual involvement. "I believe in the rule of law and the Constitutional principle that preserves representative democracy," he said. "Jury trials are the ability of citizens to judge their fellow citizens criminal cases and some civil cases, if 12 fellow citizens stand in judgment unanimously."
In the other cases, Meyers renders the decision.
Meyers is grateful to those who came before him, and all of the court staff that are necessary for the dispension of justice — the court crier, tip staff (who coordinates the jurors), court administrator, Sheriff, row officers and all of their employees. "I appreciate all of their hard work. They make my job easier."
He himself has a judicial assistant, and shares a law clerk with Judge Krom.
Meyers was born in St. Thomas, and lived much of his life in Chambersburg. As a youngster, his family often visited Colonial Williamsburg where the court re-enactments impressed him.
"I appreciated that people were coming to judges for resolution."
He credited his parents, Helen Meyers and the late J. Robert Meyers Sr., for raising him to respect the legal profession. He attended Mercersburg Academy, graduating in 1986. He then majored in political science at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He earned a law degree from Villanova University in 1993.
He practiced law in Mercersburg with Steiger and Steiger, later adding his own name to the firm. There he gained well-rounded experience in many facets of law. He focused on municipal law, and his first client was Antrim Township Municipal Authority, which he served until late last year. "In 1994 the meetings were 15 minutes," he said with a smile.
Meyers served many municipalities in Franklin County, as legal counsel for townships, authorities, zoning hearing boards and planning commissions. He practiced criminal and civil law in Franklin and Fulton counties, adjusting his caseload depending on his wife Nancy's role as an assistant district attorney for the county, to avoid a conflict of interest. She eventually left county employment to became a partner with Salzmann and Hughes PC. Meyers became assistant district attorney in 2002, then assistant county solicitor for human services. In 2006 he was appointed Franklin County solicitor. He also taught Pennsylvania Local Government at Shippensburg University.
"In the practice of law I gained the appreciation and benefit of being in front of deliberate and conscientious judges I hoped to emulate," Meyers recalled.
Obeying a Supreme Court of Pennsylvania mandate, Meyers attended the New Judges Conference in State College in January. He, Judge Krom and 62 honorable peers learned about their future.
It has been what he expected. The rule of law is what ought to guide society.
"Representative democracy means three arms of government have preserved a stable form of government for 240 years," he noted. "It requires the diligence of all to look at the Constitution, and the law in its light."
Based on his first few months at work, Meyers did dispel one television stereotype of courtroom activity. "I don't use my gavel. The courtroom is quite orderly."