James T. Giles, former Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is of counsel with Pepper Hamilton LLP, resident in the Philadelphia office. He rejoined the firm in 2008, after serving on the federal bench for almost 29 years.
Judge Giles specializes in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) matters. He assists with trial and appellate briefing, advocacy and strategies and is a presenter at firm-sponsored CLE and associate training programs. He is active in firm-sponsored and bar association related pro bono litigation programs and, generally, advances Pepper’s diversity initiatives and goals.
Before he joined the federal bench in January 1980, he was with Pepper for 11 years, first as an associate in its General Litigation Department, beginning in 1968, and then as a partner in its Labor and Employment Section, beginning in 1974. Before joining Pepper, he was an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board, 4th Regional Office, in Philadelphia. He was the first African-American lawyer to join Pepper and the first person of color to be elected to the firm’s partnership.
Having been appointed by President Jimmy Carter, he was confirmed by the Senate in November 1979. He began his judicial duties on January 3, 1980. He served as chief judge of the Eastern District bench for seven years, from 1999 until 2006. In 2000, he received the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Distinguished Jurist Award. He retired from the bench in October 2008.
Judge Giles handled a docket spanning the spectrum of civil and criminal cases typical of a busy metropolitan district court. In terms of authorized judicial officers, the Eastern District is one of the nation’s largest district courts. He was appointed by the Multi-Litigation Panel to manage, for trial readiness and to attempt to settle, significant MDL cases, among them In re Asbestos Products Liability Litigation, which initially involved more than 13 million asbestos cases, and In re Air Crash near Peggy’s Cove, which involved the Swiss Air airline crash over international waters near Nova Scotia in September 1998.
Other complex mass tort class actions over which he presided and helped resolve include In re Asbestos School Litigation, which was national in scope, and Hurt v. Philadelphia Housing Authority, which resulted in a landmark decision that lead paint injuries do not create claims under certain federal statutes. Through settlement processes in the Hurt case, important changes were made to Philadelphia Housing Authority regulations, establishing relocation rights for tenants when lead paint abatement was necessary.
In addition to administering his regular and MDL calendars, beginning in 1990, he was regularly specially designated by chief judges of the third circuit to preside as a visiting judge for the District Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which had persistent civil and criminal docket backlogs due to unfilled judicial vacancies.
Judge Giles is a member of the boards of directors of the American Arbitration Association (Executive Committee), the Independence Seaport Museum (Secretary), the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia, and the Center for Literacy (Executive Committee). He is a Master in the Temple American Inn of Court, a member of the Historical Society of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as well as a member of the American, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia bar associations.