Donald J. Goldberg, 81, Phila. lawyer for nearly 60 years
By Sally Downey
For The Inquirer
Donald J. Goldberg, 81 of Rittenhouse Square, a trial lawyer in Philadelphia for 58 years, died of complications from cancer Saturday, April 7, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Since 1991, Mr. Goldberg had been special counsel in the litigation department of Ballard Spahr and was a member of the firm’s white-collar investigations group. He previously had a solo practice in Center City for 30 years.
“Partners and associates in the firm treasured any opportunity to learn from Don,” Ballard Spahr chairman Mark Stewart said.
Mr. Goldberg defended Fortune 500 companies and individuals including lawyers, doctors, business people, and public officials.
In 1981, he was an attorney for Vincent J. Fumo when a federal judge set aside a jury’s conviction of Fumo and two others for lack of evidence. The men had been accused of placing “ghost workers” on the state legislature’s payroll.
“Dad was like Clarence Darrow but won more cases,” his son, Richard, an attorney, said. “He was exquisitely attuned to every judge and every jury he ever appeared before,” said his son, chief of the economic crimes unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Goldberg often could persuade prosecutors to drop a case, his son said, and if a case did go forward, he knew what to say to gain sympathy from a judge or jury.
Even when his clients were found guilty, Mr. Goldberg argued eloquently for reduced sentences or probation. In 1990, a judge sentenced a military contractor convicted of fraud to six months of community service after Mr. Goldberg pointed out that the contractor had been a refugee from Nazi Germany and later a Navy World War II veteran who had a 35-year unblemished personal and corporate reputation.
More recently, in 2010, a young man who sent explicit photos of a teenage boy to the teen’s school was sentenced to just 45 days in a federal prison after Mr. Goldberg called the crime “a few fleeting clicks of the computer” that “would haunt” his client all his life.
Mr. Goldberg never retired and continued practicing even while fighting gastroesophageal junction cancer. “He was a Philadelphia lawyer in the best sense,” his wife, Bettyruth Walter, said. “He loved his clients and worked miracles for so many of them.”
Mr. Goldberg would never talk about his cases with the media. He believed self-promotion might be good for lawyers but not for their clients, his son said. “If he couldn’t help someone, he wouldn’t take their case,” his son said.
An adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1983 to 1992, Mr. Goldberg was a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
Mr. Goldberg’s father died when he was 4 and his mother died when he was 9. He was then cared for by a grandmother and aunt in Wynnewood. He graduated from Central High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951. After earning a law degree from Harvard University in 1954, he was a partner with criminal lawyer Garfield Levy.
When Levy died in the early 1960s, Mr. Goldberg continued practicing criminal law for several years. His clients included colorful characters such as “Sassy Doc,” a petty thief, and Angelo Bruno.
Though his leg was weakened from a childhood bout with polio, Mr. Goldberg played tennis until February. He and his wife biked all over Europe and in Vietnam, and spent five weeks touring South America.
The couple were introduced by his law-school roommate. She was dating someone else, but he called every day for two weeks until she agreed to go out with him. They married seven months later in February 1957.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Goldberg is survived by a daughter, Caroline Igra, and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 1 p.m., Wednesday, April 11, at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., Philadelphia 19123, to which donations may be made.