Retired Bucks County Court Judge Isaac S. Garb, 83, of Buckingham, who presided over the controversial Point Pleasant pumping station case that garnered national attention and the trial of William Bradfield of the "Main Line Murders" case, died Monday, Dec. 4.

Judge Garb, known as Zeke, was still handling settlement conferences, bail hearings, and bench warrants as a master until 21/2 weeks before he died. He had retired as a full-time judge at the state-mandated age of 70.

"He had a great legal mind," County Court Administrator Doug Praul said Wednesday. "There is no one I have ever heard of who compared to him, or will again."

Judge Garb stood 5-feet-5 "at his best," daughter Maggie said, but was a legal giant in the county and the state. During 33 years on the bench, including 10 as president judge, he displayed compassion, toughness, and humor, combined with an occasionally tart tongue and a steely stare.

Judge Garb was best known for his ruling supporting construction of the pumping station to take water from the Delaware River for utilities in Bucks and Montgomery Counties and for the Philadelphia Electric Co. Limerick nuclear power plant.

In 1983, at the height of the 15-year environmental and political controversy, protesters camped in the lobby of the courthouse. Many, including the activist Abbie Hoffman, were jailed for civil disobedience.

The chief justice of the state Supreme Court picked Judge Garb to preside over the 1983 trial of Bradfield, who was charged with the 1979 killing of Susan Reinert, an English teacher at Upper Merion High School, and her two children.

Judge Garb sentenced Bradfield to three life terms after a jury found him guilty. Bradfield died in prison in 1998.

Years later, Judge Garb said he was personally opposed to the death penalty.

"It's a moral thing. I don't think a civilized society should kill people,'' Judge Garb said before his retirement.

As president judge, Judge Garb made the county court system one of the most efficient in the state by taking over the assignment of criminal cases from the District Attorney's Office.

One of Judge Garb's priorities was Juvenile Court, where he handled cases much of the time.

"He thought troubled kids were worth protecting," retired Judge Edward G. Biester Jr. said. "The cases were in the interest of the child, not the prosecution."

Judge Garb grew up in Trenton, where his city sprinting title led to a football scholarship at a Methodist college in Missouri.

"He got his teeth kicked out and broke his hand," Maggie Garb said, so he returned home and graduated from Rutgers University.

Judge Garb entered the Army, doing counterintelligence work in Washington, in the early 1950s. He attended the University of Pennsylvania law school on the GI Bill and, after graduation, hitchhiked through Europe and the Middle East for nine months.

Back home, he took a job as a defense lawyer for a Yardley law firm.

Judge Garb went on to work as a public defender and a lawyer in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia before resigning to run for the state Assembly in 1962.

In 1966, he was appointed to the county court, where he served until he retired in 1999.

Besides the law, Judge Garb's passions were his vegetable garden, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Yankees.

He and Joan, his wife of 47 years, met on a blind date in New York in their early 30s. She died in 2009.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by children Emily and Charlie, and a grandchild.

A memorial service for family and friends is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 8, at his home. No public funeral is planned.

Contact Bill Reed
at 215-801-2964, wreed@philly.com, or follow @breedbucks on Twitter. Read his blog, "BucksInq," at www.philly.com/bucksinq.