UPPER DUBLIN >> Geoff Moulton has gone a long way professionally, though geographically it has sometimes meant commuting a long way, as well. He’s now poised to enjoy the best of both worlds.
The 58-year-old Oreland resident will be sworn in Aug. 1 as a judge on Pennsylvania’s Superior Court. Moulton was one of three nominated by Gov. Tom Wolf and confirmed by the state Senate to fill vacancies on the appellate court.
Last week the low-key, highly-regarded attorney was interviewing law clerks and looking forward to setting up an office in the Fort Washington Office Park, trading in his current Harrisburg commute for one about 10 minutes from his home.
As first deputy general counsel in the Office of General Counsel since January 2015, Moulton, a Democrat, has provided advice to the governor and helped oversee more than 470 lawyers in 36 commonwealth agencies, which handle litigation and other legal services.
“I feel very fortunate, honored and privileged” to serve on the Superior Court, he said. “I’m very much looking forward to the challenge and opportunity.”
“Geoff is well-respected by people on both sides of the aisle, and I was proud to nominate him to the Superior Court,” Wolf said in an email. “He has been an instrumental part of my administration, and he has a brilliant legal mind. I am sorry to see Geoff leave, but I wish him the best moving forward.”
The governor created a Judicial Advisory Commission to vet applicants for the judgeships, and “it was a substantial application and interview process,” Moulton said. Though he doesn’t personally know any members of the Superior Court, he said he got to “bond” with the other two nominees while they met with senators prior to being confirmed.
Over the past month, he’s met others, he said, noting Superior Court President Judge Susan Gantman, who is also from Montgomery County, “has been extremely helpful.”
“We are grateful for his appointment and confirmation by the Senate and look forward to having him start in August,” Gantman said July 25. “I think he will make a wonderful addition to the bench.”
The 1976 graduate of Germantown Academy grew up in Ambler and Upper Dublin and earned a B.A. from Amherst College and a J.D. from Columbia University School of Law, where he served as managing editor of the Columbia Law Review.
Following law school, Moulton clerked for Chief Justice Wilfred Feinberg on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York and from 1985-86 for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist.
“Rehnquist was a great mentor to me,” he said. “I didn’t always agree” with his position, but “he taught me a lot about appellate work.”
Both Rehnquist and Feinberg, “a traditional liberal,” taught him about the work of appellate judges and judicial opinion writing, he said.
Moulton also served as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for eight years, including four as first assistant to then U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan, and as chief counsel to U.S. Sen. Edward Kaufman of Delaware.
“Geoff Moulton is one of the most uniquely talented people I have ever worked with,” Meehan, now a congressman for Pennsylvania’s 7th District, wrote in an email. “He is exceedingly smart, thorough and practical. As a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk and top prosecutor, he is a sharp legal analyst with an appreciation for precedent and the role of a judge. The governor and Legislature made a wise choice.”
No stranger to high-profile jobs, Moulton directed the Treasury Department review of the failed ATF raid on the Branch Davidian Compound near Waco, Texas, and was chief of staff and deputy special inspector general for the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. More recently, as a special deputy attorney general, he reviewed and reported on the handling of the Jerry Sandusky investigation by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, other law enforcement agencies, and child protective services.
He also worked in private practice with Kohn, Klein, Nast & Graf, P.C., and Dechert, Price & Rhoads, in Philadelphia.
An emeritus professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware, he has taught and written in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, white collar crime, and evidence.
The 15-member Superior Court, which sits in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, is “the busiest court in the state,” Moulton said, making decisions on more than 5,000 cases per year. His criminal law background will serve him well as “more than half the docket” involves criminal cases.
Though he has not served as a trial judge, whose work he will be reviewing on appeal, he said having clerked for an appellate court judge, “I think I have real world of trial experience,” as well as “a fair amount of experience in civil litigation.”
“The biggest challenge will be moving from the role of advocate to judge on a high volume court,” Moulton said.
The court’s work is “to correct errors and do justice,” he said. “Getting things right and keeping up with the workload, there will be a learning curve.”
Moulton, whose wife teaches in the Jenkintown School District, and whose two daughters, ages 26 and 29, are Upper Dublin High School graduates, has lived in Oreland for the past 25 years. After commuting for years to Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., he said, “it will be nice to have an office close to home.”
“Probably his most rewarding job” was as a federal prosecutor, where “I had a chance to fight for victims and work on achieving justice,” he said.
“I’ve been fortunate to do many different things,” Moulton said. “I found almost every one to be interesting and rewarding. The Superior Court will be the same way.”