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Champion bench presser steps up to a different kind of bench


John Padova Jr.

By Pete Kennedy

Before he went to law school, John Padova Jr. was an All-American powerlifter as an undergrad at Villanova. In 1985, he set a collegiate national bench press record, putting up 242.5 pounds in the 114-pound weight class.

Now 57, Padova is about to embark on a new kind of weightlifting — weighing evidence, metaphorically, on the scales of justice as a judge on the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas.

“My objective is, when people leave my courtroom, they walk out thinking, ‘The judge was courteous, fair and respectful, and he listened to what I had to say,” Padova said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf nominated Padova last year to fill a vacancy on the court, and he was confirmed by the state Senate in December. He’ll be able to run for a full 10-year term in 2021.

Padova’s ascension to the bench comes after more than 25 years as a personal injury attorney, but his connection to the law goes back to his childhood. His father, John Padova Sr., was an attorney, also, before being appointed by President George. H.W. Bush for a federal judgeship.

As a boy, Padova was impressed by the way his father and opposing counsel would be cordial to each other after clashing in court. He appreciated the impact his father had on the lives of his clients.

­­­“He represented kids that were charged with wrongdoing, who couldn’t pay,” Padova said. “Sure enough, they would show up on Saturday; their payment was that they would have to help me clean out the garage.”

His mother, whom he calls the backbone of the family, was by turns a nurse, volunteer and stay-at-home mother who carted the children to endless activities.

The eldest of six children, Padova took on some quasi-parental responsibilities for his youngest siblings, 9 and 10 years his junior. 

“I remember when I went to Chestnut Hill Academy [High School], my little sister, Jennifer, was in first grade at Springside. I used to walk down just to have lunch with her,” he said. “We were really a close-knit family, and we’ve always been that way.”

At Villanova, Padova majored in political science. He played varsity hockey, which led him to also join the school’s elite powerlifting team.

“I’m short in stature, so I had to build myself up so I had a good base and wouldn’t get knocked off the puck that easily,” he said.

He graduated from Villanova in 1985 and then from Temple Law in 1988. He started working at his father’s firm, Padova and Hinman in Center City, and later co-founded a new partnership, Padova and Lisi. Sadly, Nicholas Lisi, succumbed to cancer a number of years ago, and Padova became the sole member of the firm, now called The Padova Firm. 

As a personal injury lawyer, he represents clients and families going through some of the most difficult times of their lives. One case that stands out in his memory is that of a man who died after hitting a pothole on the City Avenue Bridge. 

“The guard, or parapet, next to the wall of the bridge was knocked off its moorings, and it actually created a ramp. His car was launched over the guardrail into the Schuylkill, where he passed away,” Padova said. 

Padova was able to secure an undisclosed settlement for the man’s family from the city and state, and the structure of the bridge was changed to prevent another tragedy.

In order to be a judge, Padova will have to resign from his firm. His youngest sister, Jennifer Padova Gallagher, who is also an attorney, will wind down the firm.

Once he’s sworn in, Padova expects to be assigned to the criminal division of Common Pleas Court. His courtroom will be in the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Philadelphia. 

Technology has changed the legal field since he passed the bar, he said.

“You get notices of e-filings on weekends or late at night. Clients and other lawyers contact you 24 hours per day,” he said. “You have an obligation to keep clients on notice.”

He still finds time to work out early in the morning a few times a week, and train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on nights and weekends. Sports have always helped shape his approach to his work and life — whether through the leadership and teamwork of hockey, or the one-on-one challenge of martial arts. 

“Losing matches is where I learned the most,” Padova said. “It’s the ability to come back from a loss or injuries, dealing with adversity and having that determination and drive to focus on your gaps, your mistakes, your timing.”

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