Peoples widely respected
Former Blair County President Judge Thomas G. Peoples’ legacy likely will be a force for many generations as a result of the respect from his judicial colleagues and lawyers.
U.S. 3rd Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith called Peoples a mentor and a friend and said he was extremely dedicated and committed to his public role.
He was a judge who well into his career would address senior lawyers as “mister” in a show of respect and who was in his own right “unfailingly polite,” said Smith.
Peoples was serious about his job and the trust placed in him by virtue of his position.
Blair County Judges Timothy M. Sullivan and Elizabeth Doyle said they think daily of Peoples in that sense.
“He taught us this position is a position of trust and public service. I try to remind myself of that every day,” Sullivan said.
President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva who served with Peoples for years and who succeeded him as head of the Blair County Court said, “He was a man of deep and devoted faith.”
Then she added, “He blessed our county with a long reputation of integrity, one of the most important things we can do as a judge.”
Many years ago during the initial stages of his time on the bench, Judge Peoples decided to make a surprise visit to a Blair County juvenile treatment facility where troubled youth were sent for counseling as part of a program to prepare them for life.
When the judge entered the facility in mid-morning, a time when teenagers were supposed to be in the classroom, he found instead chaos, with the kids watching the morning soap operas and one boy sitting on a table playing a guitar. Peoples blew his top and criticized the facility and its program for not instilling discipline and purpose in the children.
He was a man who expected individual responsibility, and, as a judge, that was his message to those who would come before his bench. He was not vindictive or retaliatory in his sentences, and he didn’t sentence defendants as a way to “send a message.”
But he did not suffer those who repeatedly turned away from the law and what was right.
His way of doing things helped clear a massive backlog of cases he faced when he took office in 1980 and paved the way for changes that enabled the Blair County Court system to become one of the most progressive in Pennsylvania, with its many programs that address drug problems, child abuse, domestic relations and family issues, medical malpractice and civil affairs, and, not the least, juvenile justice.
There were many tears in the courthouse upon the announcement of Judge Peoples’ death, but Judge Kopriva summed up the feelings of the many, saying, “I think we are all grieving the loss of a very great man.”