Home > Pittsburgh Urban Media Mourns the Death of Gary Lancaster, Chief U.S. Judge for Western Pa.

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Pittsburgh Urban Media Mourns the Death of  Gary Lancaster, Chief U.S. Judge for Western Pa., dead at 63

Gary L. Lancaster, the first black chief U.S. District judge in western Pennsylvania, has died.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that  Chief U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster, who was found dead in his home Wednesday, died of hypertensive heart disease, an autopsy showed.

Judge Lancaster, 63, was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton and had been its chief judge since 2009. 


Judge Lancaster was found unresponsive in his Stanton Heights bedroom Wednesday evening.

He had long suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.

His heart weakened over time and finally gave out, according to the county medical examiner's office.


Judge Lancaster was the first black U.S. magistrate in federal court here when he was appointed in 1987 and became the first black chief judge in 2009.

Funeral arrangements are not complete. 


PUM spoke with Matthew Lancaster (pictured below with Judge Lancaster) today who said his father will be missed by so many, "My dad was a very loving father and my best friend."

PUM is reposting the story below that we conducted with the Honorable Gary Lancaster. 







“There is an increasing awareness of the value of both ethnic and gender diversity in the federal judiciary as evidenced by President Obama’s selection of Justice Sotomayor as his first appointment to the Supreme Court.” Gary Lancaster



PUM: Honorable Lancaster you are the only African American Federal Judge in the circuit division in this region from Cleveland to Philadelphia appointed by former President Bill Clinton, what are your thoughts about that fact and why is there very few African Americans at your level?


Judge Lancaster: One of the reasons is that there are few federal judges period. The District Court for the Western District of Pa, which is where I sit, has jurisdiction from Erie to West Virginia and from Ohio to Bedford, yet there are only ten federal judgeships for the entire district. By contrast, there are over forty state common pleas judgeships in Allegheny County alone. However, there is an increasing awareness of the value of both ethnic and gender diversity in the federal judiciary as evidenced by President Obama’s selection of Justice Sotomayor as his first appointment to the Supreme Court.

PUM: You are approaching your 16th year as a District Judge before that you were a Magistrate Judge for 6 years, what have you enjoyed most about the position?


Judge Lancaster: I still enjoy the work. Every new case brings a new challenge. I enjoy the interaction with the attorneys in courtroom presentations of a well made argument and properly written brief. I find it particularly exciting to work with and hopefully help mentor and mold the young attorneys who spend a year in my chambers as law clerks. Later this month I will become the Chief Judge of the court. That office will create a completely different set of challenges and hopefully opportunities.

PUM: You have been in charged with the primary responsibility for overseeing the 75 million dollar renovation of the District Court’s historic United States Courthouse-what are your thoughts about that project?


Judge Lancaster: I am very proud of the work we did renovating the Pittsburgh Courthouse. We created six new courtrooms and chambers and did major upgrading of the existing ones. We also, through very innovative design, made this stately courthouse more open with more light and air. It is now a far less intimidating structure for our visitors. And we were able to complete the project while the courthouse was fully occupied and functioning. With these improvements, the courthouse will continue to serve the people of this community for many fine years ahead.

PUM: Do you think President Obama will appoint more African American judges? Will they be in this region?


Judge Lancaster: President Obama has already appointed several well qualified African Americans to federal judgeships including very important appointments to both the Third and Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals. These appointments, together with the excellent appointment of Justice Sotomayor, demonstrate the President’s commitment to a diverse and highly qualified judiciary. I am very impressed with the President’s selections.

PUM: In June of 2004, you were appointed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to the United States Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources-what has been your focus with that appointment and your accomplishments?


Judge Lancaster: The Committee on Judicial Resources is essentially the Human Resources Department of the Judiciary. Of the twelve judicial circuits that make up the federal judiciary each circuit has one representative on the committee. I was asked by then Chief Justice Rehnquist to represent the Third Circuit. We determine how many judgeships any court should have, the formula for staffing the Clerk of Courts, Probation and Pretrial offices. We otherwise develop the employment policies and practices for structuring employment in our branch of the government. Serving on the committee has been informative and rewarding, but also very time consuming. Between my time on Judicial Resources and the other committees I am on, coupled with the Courthouse renovation project, this has been a very busy time in my career on the bench.

PUM: What advise do you have for young aspiring attorney's interested in following in your footsteps?


Judge Lancaster: The best advice I’d give a young attorney whether he or she was interested in the judiciary or not is to pass on what August Wilson said drove him: “My belief in myself was greater than any man’s disbelief.”

PUM: And when you are not busy laying down the law, what do you do for fun? What other projects are you involved with when you are not in the courtroom?


Judge Lancaster: Finding free time is a chore but the one non- work activity that I enjoy is that I took up SCUBA diving about ten years ago. I have a diving certificate and I have been to several great diving spots in the Caribbean. And like every other red blooded Pittsburgher I live and die with the Steelers, Pirates and Pens.


BIO the Honorable Gary L. Lancaster
The Honorable Gary L. Lancaster was born on August 14, 1949 in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, and attended the public schools there. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Secondary Education from Slippery Rock State College in 1971 and a Juris Doctor Degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974. He was admitted to the practice of law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1974 and thereafter served as a regional counsel for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and as an Assistant District Attorney for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In 1978, he entered the private practice of law, specializing in criminal and civil litigation. He was appointed as a United States Magistrate Judge and took the oath of office on October 23, 1987. He was appointed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by President William J. Clinton and took the oath of office on December 17, 1993.
Judge Lancaster is a member of the Allegheny County Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the Homer S. Brown Law Association, and various civic, religious and charitable groups. Additionally, he is the author of several law-related articles and other published works. He resides in the City of Pittsburgh with his son Matthew.







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