Small towns and small counties tend to have tight-knit and collegial bar associations, and while Delaware is certainly no longer a small town or a small county, it certainly was in 1970, and it maintains many of those characteristics today. And in the long history of this county, no judge has ever remained on the General Division Common Pleas Court bench longer than the 27 years that Henry E. Shaw Jr. served the people of Delaware County.
For a generation of Delaware lawyers — perhaps two generations, considering the length of his service — Judge Shaw was a fixture in their legal practice, a man who was nearly always right in his legal rulings, and a mentor in their own legal careers. In fact, from 1976 until growth in the county led to the creation of a second seat in the General Division (filled by the highly esteemed Everett Krueger), Judge Shaw was the only judge in the General Division.
I didn’t come to Delaware until 1997, working first as an intern at the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, and then as an assistant prosecuting attorney from 1999 to 2003, but it was immediately clear upon my arrival that Judge Shaw was one-of-a-kind: completely in control of his courtroom, committed to the law, insistent on lawyers treating one another with respect, and so much more. He was a Civil War reenactor. He was a lover of history. He was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. He loved his Dobermans. And every lawyer — every single one who practiced in front of him — has a library of Judge Henry Shaw stories about things that happened in his courtroom. And they’re funny, and touching, and meaningful and wonderful.
At my swearing-in as judge in 2015, Judge Shaw came up to me after I took the oath and said, “You can call me Henry now.” I did a double-take and said, “I don’t think there’s any chance I can do that.” In fact, I don’t think I ever addressed him as anything but “Judge Shaw” — he had earned that respect.
In recent years, I took great delight on evening walks, occasionally stopping by his house to talk about any variety of things, though not nearly as often as I should have, something that we never seem to realize until someone is gone. On one recent visit, I brought with me a set of photos taken in the courthouse in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The Delaware County Historical Society was trying to identify what was in them. I found Judge Shaw sitting behind his house, he invited me in, and we spent the next hour going through what turned out to be photos of the inside of his office. He identified individual pieces of furniture, equipment, even specific files. It was a wonderful window into history.
That visit highlighted one of the two subjects that our conversations seemed to revolve around (other than law, of course) — history and music. He served as a board member for the Delaware County Historical Society and was absolutely the preeminent historian when it came to the history of our county’s court system and courthouses. He was frequently asked to provide readings of the Gettysburg Address on Memorial Day. We also shared a love of choral and organ music, another common topic of our conversations.
When I took the bench as a magistrate in 2003, the first thing I did was contact Judge Shaw’s court reporter, Carolyn Law, to ask for a copy of a transcript of his plea hearing text so that I could pattern mine after it. I’m certain that other magistrates and judges have copied that, and much more, from Judge Shaw over the years.
When the Delaware County Commissioners dedicated their hearing room to Judge Shaw a few years ago, I was out of state at the time, but they were kind enough to allow me to provide a statement to be read at the dedication. In it, I said, “Your true legacy arises from the reason behind the honor the county bestows on you today — the legacy of fairness, impartiality and fealty to the law that you instilled in every lawyer who practiced before you. They will carry those principles on in their cases, and their courtrooms, and pass those lessons on to generations of lawyers after them. How well those future litigants will be treated is the true legacy of Judge Henry E. Shaw, Jr.”
I will miss Judge Shaw’s guidance, his advice, and mostly his friendship. Thank you, Henry Shaw, for everything you gave to the citizens and the lawyers of Delaware County.