Henry Sias

Member since: Monday, 16 January 2017
Last Visit: Never
First Name
Last Name
Campaign Cycle
Common Pleas
Sitting Judge
Email Address
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Ballot Position
Button #
Bar Association Rating
8th Ward, 9th Ward
Progressive Groups
Liberty City LGBT Democrats, Reclaim Philadelphia, National Organization of Women (NOW), Philly LEAD
Public Officials
Governor Ed Rendell
News Papers
Philadelphia Gay News
What has been the general nature of your practice?
I am primarily an appellate practitioner, with several years of clerking under my belt as well. I clerked for two Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, for a homicide judge, and for a civil judge in the mass tort/complex litigation program. I have drafted briefs filed in federal circuit courts and in Pennsylvania’s appellate courts. With a few friends, I started a nonprofit that has provided thousands of free expungements to low-income Philadelphians. I specialize in the intersection of criminal and immigration law, and have also done civil rights work, especially work involving racial bias and the LGBTQ community. In addition to my other work, I have agreed to take some court-appointed post-conviction work for indigent defendants. Philadelphia needs a new generation of Post-Conviction Relief Act lawyers, and we don’t have a reliable system for developing that next generation yet. I think the best model is to start a nonprofit, like the Public Defender but solely focused on PCRA cases, and take advantage of the many federal subsidies to help fund this work and bring young attorneys into this practice.
Why do you consider yourself qualified to be judge?
I have been working in our court system in several roles, for a decade, and I have seen so many facets of its workings. It is a remarkable achievement, especially given the budgetary limitations under which it operates. I am a systems person – when I see a system, I want to invest myself in its optimization, to find common ground with everyone else who works within that system so that we can identify and address inefficiencies and problems. Right now, we have a problem with indigent defense, a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not fund indigent defense from the state budget. I want to be a part of the solution. Also, at a fundamental level, although I enjoy the role of zealous advocate, I am most comfortable as a true neutral, someone who strives for objectivity whenever possible. It is a part of my personality that seems to be permanent and unchangeable.
What is it about our criminal justice system that inspires you?
What inspires me most about our criminal justice system, and our justice system overall, is that it depends on honesty to an extent that most citizens might not realize. In my opinion, the process of discovery, which for many lawyers is associated with the grinding labor of one’s first years in the profession, is actually a triumph of civilization on par with the great architectural wonders of the world. In our justice system, the parties hand each other all of the tools with which their adversary will make their strongest case. This act of prioritizing the truth over one’s own interests, without which our courts could not function, shows the great progress that we have made. Our evolution as a species from trial by combat to trial before a neutral tribunal, in the matters of greatest importance to us, is inspiring. I also find the participation of jurors, standing in the place formerly occupied by kings and representatives of kings, to be an elegant way of bringing democracy to bear on matters great and small.
What about our current criminal justice system do you believe needs to be reformed?
We need a very serious raise for court-appointed counsel. The City has acknowledged this, and there are many good lawyers currently working on the problem. Court-appointed counsel in Philadelphia are still working for rates that were set in the mid-‘90’s, and have lost most of their value in the intervening decades. We have an especially keen need for appellate and post-conviction counsel, and the Sixth Amendment Center’s report, in addition to identifying funding as a problem, also raised concerns about the independence of appointed defense counsel under our current system. I share those concerns, and would like to work with everyone in the criminal law bench and bar to address these issues systematically.
As a judge, what would your sentencing philosophy be?
I love questions about philosophy, but when it comes to sentencing, the guidelines themselves are the philosophy. I will work as hard as I can to apply them neutrally, given the specifics of the cases before me.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night thinking about a case and wishing you had handled something differently? If so, please describe one situation.
I was once in a situation where a judge made a mistake during a moment of anger, and I was so surprised that I was slow to react and before I knew it, my moment had passed. Although I was able to file a motion for reconsideration and although it’s a near-certainty that nothing I could have said to that angry judge would have improved things for my client, I was shamed by my own inability, as a defense attorney, to speak up in the moment. I was too deferential. I had been talking for months, as I did in my response to question four, about the need for independence for court-appointed attorneys, and here I was deferring to an angry judge who was just plain wrong. I proved my own point, but not in a way that made me proud. The memory smarts, even now.
Who are your role models and why?
The judges and justices for whom I have clerked are each a role model in their specific way, and I’m grateful for all that I have learned from them. When I was in college, I studied under the author Jaimy Gordon, who was a “dark horse” winner of the National Book Award a few years ago for her novel, Lord of Misrule. She taught me to be open and curious about people, which felt very scary at the time. By following her example, I have learned much more about people over the past twenty years than I would have otherwise. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “all prospective judges should study with a great novelist,” but it wouldn’t hurt!
What is your favorite book, movie, or tv show of all time and why did it speak to you so much?
I love the movie Shoot the Piano Player, which bucks genre and embraces everything from slapstick to gangster noir but remains a deeply humane and passionate, even mournful, film. I like it because it refuses the idea that there’s only one way to do something, or that you can’t bend the rules to make room for something different. One piece of work can contain multitudes.
Name a song that you were obsessed with as a teenager.
I loved “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin, and I still do. When I was young I lived in Detroit and heard lots of Motown, but by my teenage years I was in rural Michigan, where people listened to country or classic rock. There’s a part of the song where Robert Plant is sort of just yelling, and there was an obscure TV station that did a “creature feature” b-movie horror/sci-fi show on Saturdays, and it used that part of the song as its intro music. That part I remember from early childhood: Robert Plant’s voice with Lon Chaney’s heavily made-up face as the Phantom of the Opera, cross-cut with the flying saucers from Plan 9 from Outer Space, and then the Teenage Wolfman. I also really liked “Nightswimming” by R.E.M., which I first heard as a junior in high school.
What is you favorite number?
28 (it’s part of an important date)
NewsNo Result