Judge Morganelli: From “humble beginnings” on Bethlehem’s Southside
John Morganelli was officially sworn into office Friday, Jan. 31, as a Northampton County Judge of the Court of Common Pleas amid pomp and circumstance in historic Courtroom No. 1.
The prison’s Honor Guard, in dress blues and accompanied by a bagpiper, presented the colors. The entire bench of the county’s judges, festooned in their black robes, attended the ceremony. So did U.S. District Court judges Ed Smith and Joseph Leeson, Jr and numerous other dignitaries. Easton Area High School’s Karissa Kresch sang the national anthem. Two Catholic priests offered prayers. President Judge Michael Koury Jr, administered the oath. The courtroom was packed with family, including John’s mother, as well as close to 500 friends. But it was Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez, Morganelli’s closest friend, who reminded everyone that both of them are products of Bethlehem’s south side. “John has never forgotten his roots, his humble beginnings and who his friends are,” said Donchez.
Donchez and Morganelli, who lived a block apart on Evans Street, grew up together. “None of us realized how very little we had,” he remarked. Morganelli’s father was a construction worker with a sixth grade education. His mom was a seamstress with an 11th grade education. John would go on to be the first member of his family to graduate from college, ranking fifth in a class of 305 at Moravian College. From there it was law school. Morganelli said he always dreamt of becoming a lawyer so he could help “the average folks.”
Although most people remember Morganelli from his long tenure as District Attorney, Judge Leeson provided an example of just how Morganelli did help ordinary people as a lawyer. He described a case in which a woman’s husband, a fitness buff in excellent health, died during a routine operation. She felt there had to be an explanation, but doctors insisted it was just one of those things. Lawyers refused to represent this widow, but Morganelli took the case and began deposing the medical personnel who participated in this surgery. All insisted they had done everything correctly until John came to the very last nurse who had been in the operating room. After asking whether she had to tell the truth, she revealed that the surgeon had nicked an artery and the patient bled to death. The case settled.
For his own part, Morganelli said he feels lucky, not because he’s a judge, but because of the support and encouragement he’s received from his family and friends and dedicated assistants like Terry Houck. His love for the law is what prompted him to seek a judgeship. “The law is what makes us all equal,” he remarked.
Morganelli’s childhood friends may have had humble beginnings, but now they include a mayor, federal judge and a state senator. They often get other on Friday nights. This should be confusing because these “average folks” must now address each other as “your honor.”