John Barry Beemer
Biography of Attorney John Barry Beemer:
A FIFTY YEAR CAREER AS A TRIAL LAWYER
Attorney John Barry Beemer, a career as a trial lawyer that spanned over 50 years, won trials that had a national impact.
In Nigrelli v. Metropolitan Insurance Company (1978), he represented the husband and son of Anna Nigrelli, who were beneficiaries of her life insurance policy. Mrs. Nigrelli died after a long battle with cancer and Metropolitan Insurance Company refused to pay the death benefit because the policy required that death occur within one (1) year of the onset of the fatal illness.
Judge Richard P. Conaboy held that it was against public policy to make it advantageous to die quickly to comply with an insurance policy. He referred to this possibility as a “gruesome paradox.”
Metropolitan appealed the ruling on the ground the precedent would have a major effect on the insurance industry nationwide. “This question is of great substance for many insurance policies throughout the nation that contain provisions identical or equivalent to the one before the Court,” the company argued.
Both the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the ruling and The New York Times did a feature article on the case stating: “A change on the practice of putting a cash premium on death soon after an accident or the onset of an illness could be forced on insurance companies throughout the nation under the precedent” established in the Nigrelli case.
Although he earned a reputation as an advocate on behalf of victims exposed to environmental contamination, his first environmental case involved defending the iconic Pocono resort Mount Airy Lodge against charges that the grounds of Mount Airy had been turned into “a vast organized crime toxic waste burial ground.”The changes were contained in a front page article in The New York Times. The article said “an informant testified before a New York Crime Committee that for three (3) months in 1976, about 500 drums of day (of toxic waste)were delivered to Mount Airy.
Mount Airy was concerned not only with potential criminal charges, but with the devastating impact the story would have on its resort business.
After conducting a thorough investigation which satisfied him of the falsity of the allegations, Attorney Beemer adopted a strategy of aggressive cooperation with the criminal investigators and the news media. He invited the investigators to dig anywhere on the property to determine if there were any buried toxins.
The expedited investigation concluded with the exoneration of Mount Airy on all charges with a minimum impact on its resort business.
Attorney Beemer and his wife and law partner, Diane, were contacted by hundreds of residents of the Borough of Throop to represent them because they had been exposed to lead contamination from a battery crushing plant owned and operated by Gould, Inc., a multinational corporation.
The Beemers realized that representing hundreds of affected people against a multinational corporate defendant required, not only the advocacy skills of trial lawyers, but also the management skill to assemble a trial team that had the personnel and monetary resources to level the playing field when battling a corporation with vast resources. The Beemers teamed up with Attorney Gerald Williams of Philadelphia.
The trial judge in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ordered a bell weather trial where five representative families would present their cases. Diane Beemer was stricken ill and died two months before the first trial, depriving her from participating in what would have been the crowning achievement of a career devoted to environmental justice. After plaintiffs won verdicts in two trials, a global settlement was achieved. The Scranton Tribune reported the litigation was “The largest piece of environmental litigation filed in the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania” and that the case “was cited by other Federal Courts throughout the United States and undoubtedly will serve as a legal foundation for future environmental cases.”
In 2011, Attorneys Beemer and Williams won a $11,500.00 settlement for hundreds of people living in the Abington area who were victims of contamination from tenants of The Ivy Industrial Park, Ginader v. Sandvik Steel.
In 2014 Attorneys Beemer and Williams won the first award in Pennsylvania against a fracking company for contaminating a water supply as a result of the fracking process, Place v. Chesapeake Energy.
In 2015, Attorneys Beemer and Williams won a settlement of $13,750,000 on behalf of several hundred individuals and businesses for damages from vapor intrusion, a cutting edge topic in environmental law. The Plaintiffs’ homes and businesses were contaminated when volatile organic chemicals entered the groundwater and turned into a toxic gas in Endicott, New York.
Attorney Beemer was named a Pennsylvania Superlawyer in environmental law by Philadelphia Magazine.
In 1986, The Scranton Tribune reported a $1,010,000 jury verdict Attorney Beemer won “is believed to be the largest in a personal injury case in the history of Lackawanna County.”
In the criminal arena, one of the most difficult cases to defend is when there is a confrontation with a U. S. Marshall who is in the performance of his duties.
In the case of the United States of America v. Inglis, the Federal Government had seized private property from families that had owned the property for generations in order to develop the Tocks Island National Park.
The project fell through and so called “squatters” moved into the abandoned homes which caused a huge public outcry.
A heavily armed Task Force of Federal agents proceeded to serve Complaints on the squatters, the first step in evicting them from the premises.
In the process of serving a woman squatter, a U. S. Marshal attempted to remove her from the house. Inglis intervened and a struggle between Inglis and the Marshal ensued.
Attorney Beemer persuaded the jury that the Marshal was using excessive force in his confrontation with the woman and that Inglis was justified in going to her assistance. The first trial ended in a hung jury but the jury in the second trial acquitted Inglis.
Attorney Beemer defended Anthony Bruno in one of the most controversial homicide cases in Lackawanna County history. The case illustrates how inaccurate media coverage can contribute to misinformation which fuels hysteria greatly prejudicing a defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Bruno was involved in a confrontation with another man in Old Forge. Bruno struck the man a blow to the head; the man fell to the pavement, striking his head and died after being in a coma for several weeks. Bruno fled the scene. He was arrested six months after the incident.
In an editorial in The Scranton Times entitled “Justice Was Served in Whah Case” the paper observed:
The case had been plagued by false rumors from the very start. Initial reports told of the victim being beaten with a tire iron, of having been set upon by a gang of youths, all of which proved false. The lack of headway in the police investigation caused agitation which kept the rumor mill going to the point that fear was generated in the Borough. The talk, although unfounded, spread throughout the region. When Bruno was arrested and charged emotions ran high
At the trial, the jury acquitted Bruno of all charges but simple assault.
The Scranton Times editorial stated:
The case was thus concluded in a Court of law, free of the hysteria which surrounded it at the outset. The disposition of the case was based on what evidence the prosecution was able to present in Court, not on emotion or opinion . . . Justice was served.
A columnist for The Scranton Times wrote: “An awful lot of lessons should have been learned this week as a result of the Joseph Whah case tried in Lackawanna County Court. The news media should have learned something about accurate reporting. All of us should have learned not to convict a person before he is tried in Court . . . I can’t help feeling the news media contributed to fostering and spreading many of the ill-founded rumors that prevented resolution of this case much earlier.”
John Barry Beemer was born September 4, 1941 in Scranton, Pa., to Ellis T. and Rosemary Costello Beemer.
He attended St. Paul’s High School where he discovered and developed talents for debating and writing. He competed on the School Debating Team and won The Voice of Democracy Broadcast Script Writing Competition. He was awarded a college scholarship for winning The Knights of Columbus Essay Contest.
Barry graduated from the University of Scranton in 1963, where he was on the Debating Team and active in student politics.
At the suggestion of State Senator Robert Casey, Barry’s preceptor, Barry attended Casey’s law school – The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. There he met a fellow law student, Diane Fletcher, and they married after concluding their first year of law school. In law school, Barry was on the school Moot Court Team that competed in The National Moot Court Competition and was the Student Bar Association representative to The American Law Students Association. He clerked at the Washington law firm of Ross, Marsh & Foster. After graduating from law school in 1966, and serving his three month clerkship with State Senator Casey, he was admitted to the Bar on Casey’s Motion that same year.
He returned to Washington where his wife was finishing her legal studies and clerked at The United States Court of Claims.
In 1967, he and his wife, who had graduated law school that year, moved to Scranton where Barry was Law Clerk to United States District Judge William J. Nealon. As he did with all of his law clerks, Judge Nealon remained a mentor and friend throughout Barry’s career.
In 1968, Barry joined the law firm of Warren, Hill, Henkelman & McMenamin. The firm had an extensive trial practice, which consisted of defending insurance companies, railroads and corporations. While this was excellent training in the art of advocacy, Barry decided he wanted to represent the injured and accused and in 1972, at the age of thirty (30), Barry was a founding partner in the Scranton law firm Beemer, Brier, Rinaldi & Fendrick. In 1977, he became the President of the successor firm Beemer, Rinaldi, Fendrick & Mellody, P.C.
In 1984, Barry and his wife formed the law firm Beemer and Beemer and practiced law together until Diane’s death in 1999.
In 2010, Barry was joined in law practice by his son, Bruce, who had spent fourteen years in the Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) District Attorney’s Office.
In 2011, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly named Bruce her Chief of Staff and he took a leave of absence from the firm. Subsequently, Bruce headed the Criminal Division of the Attorney General’s Office and then became First Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania. Governor Wolfe appointed Bruce Pennsylvania’s Inspector General on July 5, 2016, charging Bruce with the mission to fight waste, fraud and abuse across state government.
Governor Wolfe nominated Bruce to be Attorney General of Pennsylvania and the State Senate confirmed him unanimously on August 30, 2016. Barry proudly held the Bible while the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania swore his son in as Pennsylvania Attorney General. On January 17, 2017, following the swearing in of a newly elected Attorney General, Bruce Beemer resumed his role as Pennsylvania Inspector General.
Attorney Beemer is Board Certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by The National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States, The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County.
Attorney Beemer served on the Board of Directors of the Lackawanna Bar Association and was Chairman of the Association’s Civil Rules Committee for three years. He taught law as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Scranton and has lectured lawyers on evidence and environmental law topics. He is a member of the American, Pennsylvania and Lackawanna Bar Associations.
In the community, Attorney Beemer chaired the Committee which drafted the Constitution and Bylaws of The Lackawanna United Fund; chaired the Professional Group Division of The Cancer Drive; coached several years in The Abington Little League and officiated and coached in The Abington Basketball League. He was Annual Fund Co-Chairman for the University of Scranton National Fund Raising Effort in 1972.
He was married to Attorney Diane F. Beemer for thirty-five (35) years until her death in 1999. He is the father of two sons, David and former Pennsylvania Attorney General and present Pennsylvania Inspector General Bruce, and grandfather to two grandsons, Brett and Jackson Beemer and two granddaughters, Brooke and Jordan Beemer.