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by Christian Morrow

Courier Staff Writer

When Gary Lancaster was named chief justice of the U.S. Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in 2009, he was the only African-American on the district court bench.  At the time he joked that the title didn’t make that much difference.

“Well, be careful what you pray for,” Lancaster said. “It’s really an administrative position. So I’ll be resolving employment issues, making hiring decisions, determining the agenda for judicial meetings, overseeing the budget and representing the court at civic and bar association functions. It doesn’t reduce my caseload any, but I do get an extra law clerk.”

Lancaster died suddenly April 24 at his home in Stanton Heights. He was 63.

Paramedics were called to the house a little before 7 p.m. after his son found him unresponsive in his bedroom. Though no official cause of death has been released, indications are that he died of natural causes.

Lancaster earned his bachelor’s degree from what was then Slippery Rock in 1971 and his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974. He served on the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and as an assistant district attorney in Allegheny County until 1978. After moving into private practice, President Ronald Reagan appointed him U.S. Magistrate Judge in 1987. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1993 and became the 25-county district’s chief judge in 2009.

Lancaster was born in Brownsville. 

Lancaster was known for his no-nonsense demeanor.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning says, “Judges watch what other judges do and he was fair and decent and he treated people with respect. He was the Walter Payton of the federal bench — he was tough but he was a sweet guy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(More in Wednesday’s print edition of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)


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