By Liza Fleming and Diana Joskowicz; edited by John Basenfelder.
Tim Rice is a former newspaper reporter whose wife put him through law school while raising their three daughters. He attended Temple Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of Temple Law Review from 1985–86, and later worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney handling criminal prosecutions for nearly twenty years. He currently serves as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Philadelphia and as an adjunct professor at Temple Law School. Together, Judge Rice and Judge Felipe Restrepo created the Supervision to Aid Re-entry Program. STAR is a yearlong program that assists former inmates with finding jobs, housing, and acquiring an education. The program has been successful in reducing recidivism in Philadelphia and has served as a model for similar programs throughout the country.
Read the full interview here.
TLR: You started your career at the U.S. Attorney’s office?
JR: I clerked for Judge Scirica on the District Court and Court of Appeals. He is just a marvelous guy. Professor [James] Strazzella set that up for me. I wasn’t going to apply for a clerkship and he urged me to go down and talk to Judge Scirica. I almost didn’t do it.
TLR: Why not?
JR: I don’t know. I didn’t know the significance of clerking.
TLR: Was it not as important then?
JR: It wasn’t as high profile then as it is now. It wasn’t as competitive. And frankly, I didn’t have any mentors in my family to talk to me about what you should and shouldn’t do. So fortunately the faculty here, like Professor Strazzella, Professor [Michael] Libonati, Professor [Robert] Bartow, Professor [Mark] Rahdert, all helped point me in the right direction.
TLR: You started off at a firm for a short while before switching to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Could you tell us about your decision to leave the firm?
JR: I took a job at a major firm in Philadelphia. Very nice firm, but I didn’t find the type of work they had me doing fulfilling. They had me doing asbestos and property damage. It was hard after clerking on the Third Circuit. It was a very good firm but then an opening came up at the U.S. Attorney’s office and I had had a lot of contact with the U.S. Attorney’s office during my clerkship, because we were in the same building at the time. And so they asked me to come down for an interview and I took the job. Significant pay cut, which my wife has never forgiven me for.
TLR: It’s worth it if you enjoy it though.
JR: That’s right, I loved it. I had a lot of great years there and you don’t have to make a lot of money to be happy.
TLR: Do you have a favorite part about being a prosecutor that you miss?
JR: You dealt with a lot of people, I love dealing with people. You dealt with crime victims. You dealt with investigators, defense attorneys, and defendants. I just really miss the interaction and I miss the common sense of mission that you have when you work in a prosecutor’s office. I would think it’s the same mission you would have if you work in a defender’s office. And I think that builds a lot of good relationships and camaraderie and makes for a positive work experience.
TLR: Tell us a little bit about becoming a magistrate judge and what motivated you to leave the U.S. Attorney’s office and take the position on the bench.
JR: I never really set out to leave. There were some people who were supposed to get the job who didn’t work out, so they were looking for someone who was neutral. I didn’t have any political support or political allies sponsoring me. And so it wasn’t really a conscious decision, it kind of just happened. I loved the U.S. Attorney’s office and I still miss it. I think the thing that probably pushed me a little bit to leave is that it is a really stressful job. High stress and I thought, “I don’t know if I can do this when I’m sixty-five years old and keep up.” It’s a hard job and very demanding but you don’t get the opportunity to be a judge that often and I really enjoy it. I still miss the U.S. Attorney’s office though.
TLR: What do you think is the most difficult adjustment you had when you took the bench?
JR: Judgeships are a very isolating experience. You’re really limited to the people in your chambers because you have to have this perception and reality that you have to be objective all the time. So you can’t spend too much time with the litigants or lawyers appearing before you. So your social circle is pretty limited. And also you don’t have that common sense of mission of other prosecutors working with you or agents. It’s very isolating so you have to fight to keep connected.
TLR: It definitely sounds like an adjustment, but you must have some favorite parts about sitting on the bench?
JR: Yes. I’ve tried to make it a less stressful experience for litigants because I think judges unfortunately sometimes forget what it was like to have to be a lawyer trying cases when your kids are sick, your parents are dying, your car just broke down, you have a bad day, your marriage is struggling. I don’t think they give lawyers enough recognition of the fact that everyone has a life outside the courtroom. So I think the best part for me is to try to set an example is that you can still be aggressive hardcore litigants without all the animosity nastiness and stress.
TLR: Do you have a memorable case that sticks out in your mind that you enjoyed presiding over?
JR: As a judge the most memorable case I had was last summer with the Auschwitz Nazi camp guard. Germany wanted him extradited to face trial for war crimes because he was a guard at Auschwitz and was charged with aiding and abetting the murder of 240,000 people. Mostly Jews who were brought in and cruelly murdered. He had claimed he shouldn’t be extradited because he didn’t know what was going on in Auschwitz. The hard part of it was, and I received a lot of hate mail for this, was that he was an elderly man. He was like eighty-eight or eight-nine and people weren’t happy with someone like that being held in jail or forced to go back to Germany. Tragically, he died in jail before going back to Germany. But I had ruled just prior to his death that the German authorities had enough evidence to bring him back. So that was a pretty interesting case. And I also had a fascinating habeas corpus case; a guy who was a state prisoner shot a Philadelphia police officer in the 60s. The police officer was paralyzed and had a terrible life as a result. So the man who shot him did his time in prison, was released, and then when the police officer died 30 years later, the DA’s office charged him with murder for causing his death 30 years later because of the gunshot wound in the 60s. He was acquitted but the state didn’t release him from prison. And so he brought an action for habeas corpus saying he should be released because it was an unconstitutional violation of due process. I agreed and said that the state violated due process because he was acquitted of the crime but the state kept him in jail for another 4 years. He was an elderly man too. He was eighty years old. So those are some interesting cases. You see some interesting things.
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