Jim Flaherty, 85, of Avondale, a former Commonwealth Court judge and Allegheny County commissioner, died of melanoma Thursday, Sept. 1, at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia.
Judge Flaherty, who grew up in Pittsburgh, was a lawyer and public servant who balanced his professional career with his devotion to his five children.
He was elected to Commonwealth Court in 1995, and served as a senior judge from 2000 to 2010.
"His satisfaction always came from representing individuals," said son Mike. "Even as a Commonwealth Court judge . . . he was very concerned that the common person or the citizens of Pennsylvania would have a voice."
A Democrat, Judge Flaherty was involved in politics throughout his life, as was his brother, the late Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty. They worked together on campaigns including President Jimmy Carter's.
He also was instrumental in Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey's campaign. His son, Sen. Bob Casey, said Judge Flaherty was "a good friend and a good supporter," and recalled staying at the Flaherty family's house the night before his father's campaign announcement in 1986.
Judge Flaherty, he said, "had a great way of connecting with people and making them feel comfortable and getting people involved in politics."
Growing up, Judge Flaherty worked in his parents' grocery store and after high school got a job at a steel mill. He played football and studied economics at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa. After graduating in 1953 with a bachelor's degree, he joined the Army and served a two-year tour of duty during the Korean War.
A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Judge Flaherty practiced civil litigation for several years in Pittsburgh, opening his own firm with Alan N. Bloch, now a federal judge. In 1975, he was elected to the Allegheny County Board of Commissioners, on which he served as chairman and worked on roads, bridges, and county parks.
He returned to law in the 1980s, when he and Pittsburgh lawyer Philip Baskin created a statewide firm with two Philadelphia attorneys, John M. Elliott and Edward F. Mannino.
"He had a very keen legal mind and he had a great sense of compassion," said Elliott, a friend of Judge Flaherty for more than 40 years. "He's the kind of guy that people always looked forward to seeing. He brought the sunshine with him. He was that rare kind of person that I think made everybody feel better."
Judge Flaherty lived in Red Lion, Pa., during his tenure on the bench and after retirement. In 2014, he moved to Avondale with Katy, his wife of 58 years. He was an avid sports fan, distance runner, and coach for his children's sports teams.
"He never sacrificed his family for his professional career," said his son. "We always had a good time."
After his melanoma did not respond to treatment, Judge Flaherty chose to donate his body to research through Science Care, the family said.
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by son Mark; daughters Mary, Maureen, and Molly; and seven grandchildren.
A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at St. Bernard Roman Catholic Church, 311 Washington Rd., Pittsburgh, with internment immediately following.
Donations may be made to Cancer Treatment Centers of America's Assistance in Health Care Fund, 1331 E. Wyoming Ave., Philadelphia 19124, or at www.assistanceinhealthcareinc.org.