Stephen J. McEwen Jr., 85, of Newtown Square, a two-term Delaware County district attorney and former president judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, died Thursday, April 26, of respiratory failure at Dunwoody Village.

Stephen J. McEwen Jr.
Courtesy of the family
Stephen J. McEwen Jr.

"He was literally legendary among the bar," said Frank T. Hazel, a senior Delaware Common Pleas Court judge who knew Judge McEwen. "But he was pretty much a regular guy. It was hard to find somebody who didn't like Steve."

Born in Philadelphia to Helen and Stephen J. McEwen, one of Delaware County's best-known lawyers, Judge McEwen was raised in Upper Darby.

The judge graduated in 1950 from St. Joseph's Preparatory School and four years later from what is now St. Joseph's University. He earned a degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1957 and a master of law degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 1986.

Judge McEwen started out practicing at the father-son law firm of McEwen & McEwen in Upper Darby.

In 1967 and 1971, he was elected the county's top prosecutor. In that role, he established an investigation division, forensic laboratory, a radio system to link the county's police departments, and introduced the concept of a special prosecutor. The latter job was first filled in 1971 by Philadelphia lawyer Richard A. Sprague.

In a rare loss, he was defeated by minister Bob Edgar in a 1974 bid for the Seventh Congressional District seat.

In 1976, after serving two full terms as DA, Judge McEwen worked as a litigation partner in the Philadelphia firm of Liebert, Short, Fitzpatrick, and Lavin.

Gov. Dick Thornburgh appointed him to a vacant seat on the Pennsylvania Superior Court in 1981. Later that year, the judge was elected to a 10-year term and was reelected in 1991 and 2001.

He served on the Superior Court for 31 years, including as president judge from 1996 to 2001 and as president judge emeritus for another decade.

He was known for presiding over the court with wit, intelligence, and a deep knowledge of history, at one point moving court proceedings to Independence Hall, said Correale F. Stevens, another former president judge of the Superior Court, in the Legal Intelligencer.

Judge McEwen attained senior judge status on Jan. 1, 2003, and retired from the bench on Dec. 31, 2012.

For the last five years, he handled cases as a conciliator for the civil division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. His efforts made the court more efficient, Hazel said.

"He was one of the most courteous, thoughtful judges you are ever going to meet," Hazel said. "He was an arbiter of peace. He had a calm temperament. Even if you didn't like what he said, you couldn't dislike how he said it."

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Council of Chief Judges of the State Courts of Appeal. Only 11 judges nationwide have had that honor since the council's inception in 1980.

In addition to his judicial work, Judge McEwen was tapped by the U.S. Department of State in 2005 to serve as honorary consul to the Republic of Bulgaria. He taught at local universities. He published legal articles, as well as a 1997 book, Not Even Dicta, which described his observations from three decades on the bench.

Judge McEwen believed in friendship. "Judge McEwen coined the notion that friendship is a faith," said Andrew J. Reilly, who served as his law clerk in the 1980s and is now chairman of the Delaware County Republican Party.

"He had an abundance of affection for his fellow man, particularly those in need or who were distressed. For if you were a friend of Judge McEwen's, no barrier existed that could restrain his exercise of that friendship," said Reilly.

While serving as the Delaware County DA, he had the names of every deputy and assistant painted on his office door. When his final term expired and the office was under renovation, Judge McEwen salvaged the slab of glass bearing the names and took it with him. Now it is back.

"That door hangs today on the wall in the District Attorney's Office of Delaware County," said his wife, Marguerite "Peggy" Barrett McEwen.

Besides his wife of 62 years, he is survived by twin daughters Mary Anne Eagan and Maureen Reilly, seven grandchildren, and a sister. A son, Stephen "Hap" McEwen, and a brother died earlier.

A visitation from 9:30 to 11:45 a.m. Thursday, May 3, will be followed by a noon Funeral Mass at St. Katharine of Siena, 104 S. Aberdeen Ave., Wayne, Pa. 19087. Interment is private.

Contributions may be made to St. Joseph's Preparatory School, 1733 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19130, or to the church at the address above.