WILKES-BARRE — The rotunda of the Luzerne County Courthouse was filled Tuesday, but new Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Joseph Cosgrove summoned the words of those who were present in spirit.
Cosgrove, 59 and a native of Pittston, became the first person from Luzerne County to serve on the state Commonwealth Court, having been appointed to fill a vacant seat on June 27 by Gov. Tom Wolf. Cosgrove’s term runs until January 2018.
Cosgrove gave a heartfelt speech, remembering his parents, grandfather and great-grandfather to paint a picture of his Irish roots and his family’s dedication to America.
The new jurist talked about his great-grandfather, a stone-cutter who emigrated to America from Ireland in the 19th century. Cosgrove said his great-grandfather worked on many area stone bridges and churches, including his home parish of St. John the Evangelist in Pittston.
He said his mother would tell him to “stand up straight, speak loudly and don’t make anyone mad.” He said his dad, Richard, a former newspaper columnist for the Sunday Dispatch, would look at him and say, “Well, you finally found steady work.”
And his great-grandfather that he never met but had heard stories about his entire life, Cosgrove said he imagined he would say, “Ya done good, laddie. Now get to work.”
Cosgrove then donned his black robe and told the overflow crowd that he would roll up his sleeves and get to work.
Following the ceremony, Cosgrove said he was humbled by the appointment and he looks forward to his time on the bench.
“This is an incredible opportunity to participate in the important work of the Commonwealth Court,” he said. “This court’s work affects so many of Pennsylvania’s citizens.”
Again calling on his Irish heritage, Cosgrove said there is another saying that includes, “I could feel the presence of all those who had gone before me.” He said, “I had a lot of family members with me here today.”
Rabbi Larry Kaplan called Cosgrove, “our mensch on the bench.” Mensch is a Yiddish term meaning a person with integrity and honor, he said.
Attorney Joe Burke, a lifelong friend of Cosgrove’s, recalled a story of when Cosgrove was a volunteer at the Pittston YMCA. He said some younger boys were waiting to play ping pong, but the table was being used by some older, bigger boys. Burke said Cosgrove approached the older boys and asked them twice to allow the younger boys to play. Without a word of objection, Burke said the older boys listened to Cosgrove and relinquished the table to the young boys.
“I knew then that Joe had the courage, decency and goodness to serve on the bench,” Burke said.
Burke also recalled the time Cosgrove, during his time in the Luzerne County Public Defender’s Office, once called Mother Teresa of Calcutta to testify for the defense via telephone during a Luzerne County death penalty case. Burke noted that Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, will be canonized as a saint this year — the same year Cosgrove was appointed to the court.
“Coincidence?” Burke asked. “I don’t think so. I think there’s a higher power at work here.”
Cosgrove, a Pittston native and former Luzerne County interim judge, taught constitutional law at King’s College for many years and has been outspoken against capital punishment.
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School, he has a master’s in theology from Notre Dame, and a master of arts from Marywood University in Scranton. He has served on the ethics committee at Misericordia University and served as chief legal counsel for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.