Former state Supreme Court justice Stephen Zappala Sr. remembered for distinguished public service

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May 23—Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala Sr. was remembered for his distinguished legal career and public service.

Zappala, of Collier, died Friday, May 21, 2021. He was 88.

Zappala went from a private law practice to Allegheny County planning development director to county solicitor, an Allegheny County judge in 1979, then elected to the state Supreme Court in 1981. In 2001, he was elevated to the position of Supreme Court chief justice. He retired as a Supreme Court justice in December 2002.

His son Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has been Allegheny County's district attorney since 1998.

The younger Zappala said in a statement that his father was "an exemplary public servant, a giant in the legal profession and a stalwart leader of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court." Many of his opinions from the bench still guide the work of lawyers and the courts, Zappala Jr. stated.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in a statement that the judge's "distinguished legal career, and interest in public service, benefited our community."

The senior Zappala grew up in Pittsburgh and played center on a Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School basketball team that won the state championship. He played basketball at Notre Dame and Duquesne University, before earning his law degree from Georgetown University Law School in 1958.

While serving on the state's highest court, he initiated, developed, and fully integrated the largest court automation system of its type in the country. His efforts combined and automated systems of the three appellate courts in Pennsylvania making it much easier and efficient for litigants, counsel, and the courts to operate.

He was involved in many social organizations and received numerous awards from civic and legal organizations.

He was married to his wife, Phyllis, for 65 years. In addition to his son, Stephen Jr., he also survived by a son, Gregory and two daughters, J. Michele Peck and Dana Felix.

He was preceded in death by a daughter, Kimberly.

Family and friends will be received from 1 to 3 and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at the William Slater II Funeral Service, 1650 Greentree Road, Scott Township. A funeral service will be at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Calvary Cemetery Lower Mausoleum.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, jnapsha@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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