PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Baer, DU Law School alum, dies at 74

Courtesy of Duquesne University | Chief Justice Max Baer, seen here on Sept. 7 prior to the renaming of the Duquesne Law School in honor of Thomas R. Kline, died on Saturday at the age of 74. Baer, a 1975 graduate of the Duquesne Law School, is survived by his wife, two children and five grandchildren.

Alicia Dye | News Editor

Oct. 6, 2022

Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Duquesne Law School alum Max Baer died on Saturday at his home. Baer was 74 and is survived by his wife, two children and five grandchildren.

Duquesne University held a memorial for Baer in the Charles J. Dougherty Ballroom in the Power Center on Tuesday. Many guests were in attendance, including Governor Tom Wolf, the next Chief Justice Debra Todd, and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Baer graduated from Duquesne Law School in 1975, and then served as a deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania. In 1989, Baer joined the family division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Baer oversaw many changes within the division and eventually earned the reputation as the “Fighting Judge,” as he changed how the court dealt with children. Baer was elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 2003 and was sworn in as Chief Justice in 2021.

“No longer were our children adverse and vulnerable children led to the dark corners. No longer would they be carrying green plastic bags with their life belongings, going from home to home, shelter to shelter,” said Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty during the memorial. “He decided that when there’s a place to go, it was a home. When there was someone to love, that was the family.”

Baer extended family court hours for working families, hired more officers to process backlogged cases, created education programs for struggling parents and more advancements during his time in the family division. Baer also created the Office of Children and Family in the courts.

Duquesne President Ken Gormley focused on Baer’s kindness and his service to many.

“In many ways, Max was the heart of the court because his kindness and his caring were on display every day,” Gormley said. “His death is a terrible loss to all of us, and there is no escaping that. But I can’t help but feeling despite that strong sense of loss, that Max is exiting this earth on top of his game.”

Baer was fondly remembered as a dedicated father and grandfather, who loved and cared for his family.

“He loved the law, and he loved being a judge,” Todd said. “But most of all, he loved his family. Max Baer’s greatest legacy is found in the fine young men he and Beth raised together and their grandchildren, and in our memories of Max’s pride in regaling us with stories of his wonderful family.”

Andy Baer, Baer’s younger son of Justice Baer, shared his fond memories of their father and how he helped them throughout their lives, specifically how he helped Andy prepare for joining ROTC before college.

“My dad showed up. I don’t mean he put boots on the ground or feet in the seat,” Andy said. “I mean he showed up in a big way when we needed him, come hell or high water. When I sat down for the interview with the colonel, I was ready. I was ready because Max showed up.”

Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark also paid tribute during the memorial. Clark has known Baer since 1999.

“I’m going to ask you to celebrate the life of Max Baer. There is much to celebrate,” Clark said. “There are a few words that come to mind when I think of Max. Icon, leader, servant leader, legend, innovator.”

A longtime friend of Baer, Dr. Peter Davis met Baer when he moved to Pittsburgh and when their children became friends in preschool.

“It was through the children that we developed this incredible friendship,” Davis said. “It has lasted for well over 35 years. The Baers took us in as the extended family, and it’s been a wonderful family to be selected into, not born into.”

Davis also discussed Baer’s interests, even describing them as “eclectic” and talked about how the justice used “Star Wars” in his life.

“Yoda was his guiding light, his guidepost,” Davis said. “He looked at Yoda for direction and support, and he found it.”

Ben Baer, Baer’s older son, shared how his father helped him from an early age with his academics, which prepared him for college.

“While he was doing all these incredibly important and professional things, he came home and sat down at the kitchen table on one side, with me next to him,” Ben said. “He would look over my shoulder and go over my homework because I hadn’t done it properly.

“We spent hours every night doing my homework. He was invested in making sure I would be successful. He taught me to study, he taught me his value of work ethic, and in a few years, I was prepared and ready to go. Many of the successes I’ve achieved in this world are because of him teaching me.”

Gormley released a statement Saturday, in which he recalled his own experiences with Baer.

“Chief Justice Baer has been a good friend for most of my own career, ever since I did work with Chief Justice Ralph Cappy and other members of the court as a young legal scholar writing about Pennsylvania Constitutional Law and the unique contributions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” Gormley said. “Max was kind, positive, humble, dedicated to the law school where he had gotten his start and a faithful friend to me and many others whose lives he greatly enriched.”

The end of the memorial celebrated Baer’s love of music.

“All of you who knew Max, and you heard from Ben and Andy, know that he loved music, especially folk music and guitar,” Gormley said. “In Max’s honor, we have integrated both of those into the presentation.”

“When the River Meets the Sea” was performed by Cmdr. Richard Manning of the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office. Thomas Kikta, an associate professor at the Mary Pappert School of Music closed with “Always Will.”