Judge John M. Cleland, who has earned a reputation in the region and throughout
Pennsylvania for his unwavering fairness and strong commitment to juvenile
justice during his 30 years on bench, will address the graduating class at Pitt-Bradford in April.
who is also a member and past chairman of the university’s Advisory Board and a
Kane native, will deliver the keynote address during commencement exercises
Sunday, April 27, in the KOA Arena in the Richard E. and Ruth McDowell Sport
and Fitness Center.
is a distinct honor for our university to have John Cleland address our
graduates, particularly during this milestone year as we celebrate our 50th
anniversary,” said Dr. Livingston Alexander, Pitt-Bradford’s president. “Though
he is well-respected throughout Pennsylvania, he has never forgotten his
small-town roots, which will enable him to offer practical and valuable advice to
our graduates and their families.”
earned a juris doctor with honors
from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in 1972. After
serving a clerkship in the federal courts in Pittsburgh, he returned to Kane in
1974 and practiced with the firm of Woods, Baker and Cleland.
spending 10 years with the firm, he was installed on Oct. 5, 1984, as president
judge of McKean County following a merit selection nomination by then-Gov.
Richard Thornburgh and confirmation by the Pennsylvania Senate. He was
subsequently elected to three terms as the county’s president judge.
2008, then-Gov. Edward Rendell nominated Cleland to be a judge of the Superior
Court of Pennsylvania, where he served until December 2010. Cleland is
currently a senior judge of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas.
Cleland spent many years on the bench in his native McKean County, his judicial
impact has extended far beyond the boundaries of McKean County.
2009, he was appointed by the chief justice of Pennsylvania to chair the
Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice, which was charged with
investigating corruption leading to the breakdown of the juvenile justice
system in Luzerne County.
commission reviewed what became known as the “Kids for Cash” scandal, which unfolded
in 2008 in Wilkes-Barre where then-Luzerne County President Judge Mark
Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan were accepting kickbacks in
connection with the development of a private juvenile detention facility. Both judges
were convicted and sent to prison.
In 2011, Cleland was assigned to preside over
the criminal trial of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky after all
of Centre County’s judges recused themselves because of their ties to Penn
State. The case and subsequent trial made Cleland, who was already well known
in his home county, a familiar figure throughout the rest of Pennsylvania as
well as the nation and the world as the high-profile case unfolded.
2008 to 2011, Cleland, along with 30 judges, court executives, law professors
and journalists, participated in an executive session for state court leaders
in the 21st century at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School
has also taken a role in public health emergency legal preparedness, publishing
papers, giving presentations, and co-chairing committees to ensure that
Pennsylvania judges and courthouse employees are prepared for any bio-hazard
During his career, Cleland has amassed
a long list of awards, including the Heavy Lifting Award from the Pennsylvania
Conference of State Trial Judges in 2012, the Robert I. Shadle Legal Excellence
and Professionalism Award from the Herbert B. Cohen Chapter of the American Inn
of Courts in York in 2010, the Community Collaboration Award from the Bradford
YWCA Victims’ Resource Center in 2005, the Golden Crowbar Award from the
Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges in 2003, the Clarity in Writing
Award from the Pennsylvania Bar Association Plain English Committee in 2001, and
the President’s Distinguished Service Award from the Pennsylvania Conference of
State Trial Judges in 2000. In 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of
Distinction from Pitt-Bradford, the university’s highest honor.
to his service with Pitt-Bradford’s Advisory Board, he has served on the
University of Pittsburgh’s Board of Trustees, the Board of Visitors of the
Graduate School of Public Health, and the Advisory Board for the Center for
Rural Health Practice.
is also active in his community. He serves as an elder and trustee at the
Presbyterian Church of Kane, was a member and chairman of the FCI-McKean
Community Advisory Board, was a member and past president of the Kane Area
Industrial Development Corp. and the Kane Rotary Club, was a former chairman of
the Kane Area Recreational & Cultural Commission, and was president and
director of the Kane Area Historical Society.
holds several professional memberships. He is a member and has held leadership
positions on the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges, is a member and
former vice president and secretary of the McKean County Bar Association, and
is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Bar of the United States
District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and the Bar of the
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
lives in Kane with his wife, Julie. They have two daughters and three