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This Week’s LION: A Generous Judge: Federal District Magistrate William “Skip” Arbuckle

This Week’s LION: A Generous Judge: Federal District Magistrate William “Skip” Arbuckle

The heading does not mean that Judge Arbuckle will lend you money, but what he does lend is his very valuable time — and of all places, in prisons. Federal District Magistrate William “Skip” Arbuckle was the guest speaker at the annual Volunteers Appreciation Dinner at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex on April 4th of this year. His talk was so inspiring; I wanted to sit down and learn more about him and what caused him to devote thousands of hours of volunteer time in the past decades to help others who badly needed help.

Skip Arbuckle graduated from Grove City College in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and also as a three-time All-American swimmer. He had an ROTC scholarship with the US Air Force, but as his eyesight had weakened to the point where he had to wear glasses, he could not be a pilot. Arbuckle got a deferment to study law at the Akron University School of Law, and by the time he received his degree, the Vietnam War was over. The USAF did not need lawyers, so he went into the Air Force Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps from 1971 to 1985.

Throughout his career, Skip Arbuckle had a heart for others, particularly those who had been incarcerated. For example, he realized that prisons needed teachers for inmate courses, so he volunteered for classes in business law and introduction to business. In those early years, there were a number of those who were serving three-year mandatory sentences for involuntary deaths from DUIs, and these ‘white collar’ types would be side by side with life sentence inmates. [It made for an interesting class environment!] Arbuckle got great satisfaction from the appreciation he received from his ‘captive’ audience.

In 1989, Arbuckle’s colleagues thought he was endangering himself by his voluntary service in prisons. Still, he emphasized that in all his years of working in prisons, he never had a bad incident. One of his fellow lawyers decided to follow Arbuckle’s example and unfortunately found himself at the Camp Hill Correctional Institution when they had a three-day riot that destroyed some eighty percent of the prison’s buildings.

It turned out that the year 1989 had a different but much more far-reaching impact for Skip Arbuckle. Throughout his career, Skip Arbuckle has always volunteered in any area that he felt he could help. It turned out that his fellow lawyers fell into this category as well. Lawyers are like others who struggle with life difficulties, but they must also maintain the public trust to be effective. What happens when a lawyer, or a judge, or even law students struggle with anxiety, depression, stress, burnout, grief or loss, eating disorders, or even compassion fatigue? What if they turn to self-medicate through alcohol or some other substance abuse? How can they be helped without compromising their profession?

Out of this came an initiative called Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) in Pennsylvania. Arbuckle was one of the founding members in 1989 and is still active in the organization. Over these past thirty-plus years, LCL has discreetly assisted thousands of lawyers, judges, their family members, and law students struggling with all sorts of problematic behavior.

Another issue developed not long after the Atlantic City casinos began springing up. The PA Supreme Court was concerned that lawyers could be compromised from gambling. To ensure that this would never become an issue, an initiative was created entitled Lawyers Fund for Client Security, which was to reimburse victims of attorney dishonesty in the practice of law and, at the same time, preserve the integrity and protect the good name of the legal profession. And again, Skip Arbuckle was on the ground floor of this initiative.

What makes Arbuckle so unique is that given all of his humanitarian work, he also was an exceptional lawyer and thus, in July of 2008, was selected to become a part-time federal magistrate judge, and then in June of 2017, he was sworn in as United States Magistrate Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania which is located in the Federal Office Building in Williamsport.

At the Lycoming Law Association’s annual banquet in January of this year, he received the “William E. Nichols Community Service Award.” He certainly deserved it as he had served as president for a number of years and was instrumental in reinvigorating the foundation board and increasing its membership. Judge Arbuckle has been a guest lecturer at Lycoming College, judges rounds of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s mock trial competitions for high school students, is involved in the Law Day Committee by judging essays, supports the Court Appointed Special Advocate program, and even supports Project Linus, providing blankets for children.

Judge Arbuckle is one in a million, and hopefully, his example will inspire others to use their time, talents, and treasure to help others.