Third Circuit Judge to be Principal Speaker at Steamtown NHS Program

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Planning committee for the program: R. Patrick McKnight, William J. Gershey, Robert M. Savakinus, Atty. Joseph Burke III, Lee Ann Munley, Executive Director of the Lackawanna Bar Association, Atty. Joseph F. Cimini, William L. Leonard Jr., P.E., and Barbara Brundage, Park Ranger, Steamtown.

Planning committee members for the Erie RR v Tompkins presentation at Steamtown NHS
Courtesy, Wilkes-Barre Law Library Association

News Release Date: May 21, 2014
Contact: , 570-241-8258
Contact: , 570-822-6712

SCRANTON, Pa. – Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and a nationally renowned legal scholar, will be the principal speaker at a free program to be held in the Theater at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton on Tuesday, May 27th, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The program is entitled: "The Ashley Special – The Train that Changed the Common Law."

The program, a Lackawanna Valley Heritage Authority Roundtable project, tells the fascinating story that developed into one of the most significant cases ever to be decided by the United States Supreme Court – the case of Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins.In the early morning hours on June 27, 1934, The Ashley Special, consisting of thirty-eight assorted rail cars, a caboose, and a coal tender, was being pulled by a J2 Class Erie engine, No. 2499. The train was manned by an experienced crew of six and was travelling along railroad tracks that extended from Avoca to a depot in Ashley. Along its travel, in Hughestown, Pennsylvania, unknown to the crew, a pedestrian walking along the tracks was struck by an object jutting out from one of the train cars. The pedestrian was 27 year-old Harry James Tompkins, a resident of Hughestown.

As a result of the accident, Mr. Tompkins was knocked unconscious and his right arm was severed by the wheels of one of the cars. A lawsuit was subsequently brought in federal court in the Southern District of New York against the Erie Railroad. The case, Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, evolved into one of the top 20 most significant cases of all times to be heard on appeal by the United States Supreme Court. "It is a case that is studied in first year law school and is known by every lawyer in the country," notes Attorney Joseph P.J. Burke III, one of the participants in the program. Burke adds, "Most people who live in Northeastern Pennsylvania have no idea that such an important precedent-making case had its origins locally."

In addition to members of the public, the Northeastern Education Intermediate Unit (#19), courtesy of William J. Gershey, Curriculum & Instruction Consultant, and the Luzerne Intermediate Unit (#18), courtesy of Robert M. Savakinus, Transition Education Specialist, will bring area school students to the program, while the Wilkes-Barre Law & Library Association/the bar association of Luzerne County, the Lackawanna County Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, and the Third Circuit Bar Association will be providing continuing legal education credit to area lawyers attending the program.

Other participants in the program, as well as being program planners, include Attorney Joseph F. Cimini, University of Scranton Associate Professor and a Trustee and Past President of the Lackawanna Historical Society, and Attorney Robert T. Gownley Jr., Past President of the Lackawanna Bar Association and the nephew of one of the attorneys that was involved in this famous case.

Additionally, R. Patrick McKnight, Park Historian at Steamtown National Historic Site, will present a PowerPoint overview of the Ashley Special and explain how a train such as this would have been operated and what the job duties would be of the various members of the crew on the train. Joseph Burke III, W-BLLA Executive Director, lawyer, law librarian, and educator, will present visual images of the famous judges, lawyers, and legal scholars involved in the case.

William L. Leonard Jr., P.E., Acting Superintendent at Steamtown NHS, and Robert M. Savakinus, as Chairperson of the Lackawanna Valley Heritage Authority, will act as masters of ceremony for the event.Congressman Matthew A. Cartwright, who is a distinguished attorney, is also anticipated to say a few remarks, as well as some other area officials. Complimentary educational materials for the program have been generously donated by Thomson Reuters and its West Academic Publishing division. Thomson Reuters, the largest legal publisher world-wide, publishes the leading federal treatise and also publishes the leading law school casebook that discusses and explains the Erie case.

Shown in the Photo (from left to right) are members of the planning committee for the program: R. Patrick McKnight, William J. Gershey, Robert M. Savakinus, Atty. Joseph Burke III, Lee Ann Munley, Executive Director of the Lackawanna Bar Association, Atty. Joseph F. Cimini, William L. Leonard Jr., P.E., and Barbara Brundage, Park Ranger, Steamtown NHS. Other members of the planning committee, not in the photo, are Atty. Robert T. Gownley Jr., Mary E. Kline, Chief, Visitor Services & Resources, Steamtown NHS, and John A. Farkas Jr., Sub-Committee Chairperson of the Lackawanna Arts Council.

Did You Know?

Drawing of African Elephant.  Steamtown has a locomotive which weighs about as much as 85 African Elephants.

The Union Pacific 'Big Boy' locomotive, one of 25 built to this design, weighs just under 600 tons - approximately as much as 83 adult male African elephants! It is on display at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania. More...

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