Arlin M. Adams

Edward G. Rendell
Jane Golden

Arlin M. Adams grew up in North Philadelphia during the Great Depression, an experience which left him with much sympathy for people who struggle to make ends meet in a harsh environment. His father was an artist who worked in the hat business out of necessity, and his mother was a department store clerk. He was the first in his family to attend college, working full-time while studying economics and political science at Temple University, where he graduated in 1941.

H e was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, graduating in 1947. During World War II Adams served as a Navy logistics officer in the North Pacific. Adams began his legal career with one of Philadelphia's largest law firms, Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis. From 1963 until 1966 Adams remained with the firm while serving as secretary of public welfare under Governor William Scranton, where he helped introduce the educational program that became the model for Head Start. Adams was named senior partner before leaving the firm in 1969 when President Richard M. Nixon appointed him a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He served on the appeal court’s bench until 1986, when he returned to Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis as a partner.

A moderate Republican, Adams was seriously considered for an appointment to the United States Supreme Court by Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan. Adams became especially well-known and well-respected for his work as an arbitrator and mediator. By 1996 he had arbitrated 44 significant cases, which revolved around such issues as corporate responsibility for environmental cleanups, disputes between insurance companies, and liability for defective products.

Adams received the Philadelphia Award on June 3, 1997, “in recognition of his lifelong commitment to public service,” at a ceremony held at the American Philosophical Society, where he served as president. His triumphant handling of the bankruptcy of the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy, however, was the specific reason that the award was granted to him.

The Foundation for New Era Philanthropy was based in Radnor, Pennsylvania and offered to double the money of nonprofit organizations that invested their funds with them. The foundation’s representatives had claimed that they had access to a group of anonymous benefactors who had made the double the money pledge. However, the benefactors were fictitious and the promised returns were drawn from the flow of new deposits from unsuspecting nonprofit groups. Hundreds of organizations were hoodwinked.

When representatives of the nonprofit organizations met to seek resolution of the debacle, attorney Michael Bloom recalled, “the hope was that a single name would percolate to the top and it did.” The person who percolated to become the trustee was Adams, who negotiated a complex settlement among the creditors which involved redistributing some of the gains received to those groups that had lost their investments. Adams explained the rationale of the settlement: “The key here was to get people to see beyond the money and look at the bigger implication. This was going to really hurt the city, because charities would not be able to raise money.”

The bankruptcy of the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy was the largest nonprofit bankruptcy and fraud case in American history. Richard Smoot, chairman of the Philadelphia Award trustees, said: “Judge Adams is a person of masterful leadership, unquestioned integrity and extraordinary wisdom – attributes that have combined to make him a modern-day Solomon for Philadelphia and beyond.” As a result of his leadership as trustee, every nonprofit organization that invested money in the fraudulent scheme survived.

James J. Copeland

Sources: Thomas Ferrick, Jr., “For Adams, Issue is Matter of Service,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 3, 1990; Joseph Slobodzian and Daniel Rubin, “Group Wants Ex-judge for New Era Job,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 26, 1995; Suzette Parmley, “An Illustrious Life in Law Brings Acclaim,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 1997; Sarah Gordon, “Transcript Of Interview with Judge Arlin M. Adams,” University of Pennsylvania Law School, The following are collected in Philadelphia Award Records, Series 2 (Recipients and Nominees), Box 7, folder 22: support letters and resume; Series 4 (Miscellaneous, 1921), Box 20, folder 4: press releases. Photo: Image courtesy of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP. Comment: Adams, who had a miniature statue of his hero, Benjamin Franklin, in his office, believed that education is a “leveler and ticket to a better life.” His distinguished, exemplary life is a testament to his belief. Adams also believed that public service work should be a substantial portion of a lawyer’s work; he estimated that between one-fourth and one-third of his time was spent in this unlucrative manner. He did not charge for many of the hours he spent on the bankruptcy case of the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy.