Paul A. Dandridge, 93, of Wyncote, a Philadelphia judge who during his time on Municipal and Common Pleas Courts advocated for troubled youths and people in addiction, died on Thursday, April 23, of complications from a fall.
Born in West Philadelphia, Judge Dandridge graduated from West Philadelphia High School and attended Howard University before being drafted into the Army Air Force in March 1945. He graduated from Lincoln University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
At first, he made a living by “doing everything,” said his wife, Claudia. He was a cab driver, bartender, caterer, post office clerk, Philadelphia medical examiner’s assistant, and investigator for the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.
He attended Temple University’s law school at night. After graduating in 1965, he worked as an assistant district attorney under then-District Attorney Arlen Specter.
“He and Arlen were very close,” his wife said. “He worked on Arlen’s campaign when Arlen was running for mayor.” In 1967, Specter, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully against Democratic incumbent James H.J. Tate.
In November 1968, Judge Dandridge was elected to serve as one of the first jurists on the then-fledgling Municipal Court.
For three years, he ran the municipal drug court, formed to help people struggling with drug addiction. He also served on a governor’s council on drug addiction.
“His main concerns were with young people, especially those in juvenile gangs throughout the city, and with juveniles relating to drug addiction,” his wife said. “He saw a need for rehabilitation.”
In August 1971, he turned heads by recommending legalization of heroin sales. The move, he said, would cut the profit in such sales and alleviate much of the petty crime from addicts stealing to pay for a fix.
“If we treat the addict as a sick man and not as a criminal, most of the drug problems would disappear,” he was quoted as saying in the Vineland (N.J.) Daily Journal. He made the remarks at a seminar on gang influence in urban schools at Temple University.
While public officials questioned the idea, the Daily News didn’t dismiss it. “Judge Dandridge’s proposal is not as outrageous as the headlines might suggest,” the paper wrote.
Despite his liberal bent, Judge Dandridge was unsympathetic to adult drug smugglers. In March 1973, he sentenced a Penndel man to nine to 23 months in prison. The man had been convicted of conspiracy to land a plane carrying a ton of marijuana at North Philadelphia Airport in 1971.
“When you play cops and robbers, you have to pay the price,” the judge said at sentencing, the Daily News reported.
After he became a Common Pleas Court judge, the state’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Board admonished him for keeping for his personal use $23,500 raised at a 1972 testimonial dinner in his honor. The dinner was hosted by two lawyers who had argued before him in court.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that, despite being a respected jurist, he must repay the money and accept the censure for giving the appearance of impropriety. He retained his seat on the bench.
Judge Dandridge spent most of his time on Common Pleas Court as a Family Division jurist. “He’d call the kids up to the bench and talk to them, and try to be the father they never had,” his wife said.
He and his wife met in Family Court when she was a public defender. They married in 1983.
Judge Dandridge retired from the bench in 1984. The couple’s son was born in 1985, and the family bought a farm in Gilbertsville, Montgomery County. They later moved to Wyncote.
The judge served as a volunteer for Safe Streets and for Gaudenzia House, which helps people with substance abuse issues. He was a Temple University trustee from 1981 to 2001.
Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, Paul A. “P.J.” Dandridge II; three nephews; and three nieces.
Services were private. A memorial will be held once the pandemic ebbs.