Election 2023

What to know about James ‘Jimmy’ DeLeon, the former judge running for Philadelphia mayor

Now retired, he served on Philadelphia Municipal Court for 34 years and faced disciplinary issues twice.

James 'Jimmy' DeLeon is running for Philly mayor

James 'Jimmy' DeLeon is running for Philly mayor

Courtesy DeLeon campaign
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Former judge James “Jimmy” DeLeon has entered the race for Philadelphia mayor, announcing Tuesday that he will run in the crowded Democratic primary.

DeLeon served as a municipal judge for 34 years, and he’s involved in the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee as chair of the legal committee.The 75-year-old Germantown resident said he will bring a “no-shenanigans-let’s-follow-the-law-there-will-be-order-in-the-courtroom” style to City Hall, if elected.

“I know that I can make a positive difference in our city and lead it to new heights,” DeLeon said. “I believe that my experience, values, and vision would prove invaluable to the position of mayor.”

He’s joining a crowded field of Democratic candidates. Already six others have announced plans to run for the Democratic nomination: former councilmembers Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Derek Green, Cherelle Parker and Allan Domb, former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart and grocery store magnate Jeff Brown. Councilmember Helen Gym has long been expected to throw her hat in the ring, and more recently buzz is circulating around state Rep. Amen Brown as a potential candidate. On the other side of the aisle, Councilmember David Oh is a potential Republican candidate.

Unlike the others who have declared their candidacy so far, DeLeon’s name has not been circulating as a likely candidate prior to his announcement Tuesday.

He’s well aware of the crowded field, but he said he’s not satisfied with what he’s heard from candidates so far, and that’s why he’s running.

“I’m hoping I can agitate these other candidates to put on their thinking caps and come up with some ideas,” he said. But, he added, “The only good plans they could come up with would have to piggyback off mine.”

Legal career and party involvement

DeLeon was raised in West Philadelphia, graduated from West Catholic High School, and went on to graduate from Howard University and Widener Law. He was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1978 and elected to the Philadelphia Municipal Court in 1988.

As a lawyer, he spent some time working for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and he had his own practice, the DeLeon Law Offices.

The municipal court’s criminal division handles misdemeanor and summary offenses, and does preliminary hearings in felony cases before they are transferred to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Its civil division handles small claims, including landlord-tenant issues.

He ran for higher court positions unsuccessfully a couple of times — for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2003 and the state Superior Court in 2007.

During his time as a judge, DeLeon faced disciplinary issues twice.

In 2006, the Judicial Conduct Board accused him of engaging in prohibited campaign conduct while he was running for supreme court. The Pa. Court of Judicial Discipline dismissed that case a few months later because the timing of the board’s complaint was improper.

Two years later, the Court of Judicial Discipline found him guilty in a separate case, ruling that DeLeon violated the Pa. Constitution by issuing “a bogus ‘stay away order’ on behalf of a social acquaintance.” He was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution.

“I made a mistake, and I was given a second chance,” DeLeon told Billy Penn. “That’s why I believe in second chances.”

DeLeon retired from the Municipal Court at the beginning of this year. He worked for several months as the attorney for the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee, and served as chair of the legal committee which has 30 lawyer members. He said he resigned from that position before announcing his mayoral candidacy.

Despite his work for the party, DeLeon said he’s not expecting party backing in the primary. “The chairman already said it’s a wide-open race,” he said.

DeLeon’s platform

DeLeon decided to run for mayor three years ago, he told Billy Penn, unless he saw a candidate come forward with a clear plan for addressing the city’s gun violence problem.

He wants to implement a “Local Incident Management System” of procedures in city government to combat gun violence. He wants the mayor’s office and city council to work more closely with the Philadelphia courts, district attorney’s office and others involved in the legal system to come up with solutions because these actors have high exposure to the underlying issues.

“Everybody comes to the court,” he said.

In nearly every policy area addressed on his website — gun violence, municipal services, education, economy, housing, criminal justice and health — he says he will hold “solutions-based” listening sessions.

Other priorities he lists on his website include adding 1,500 officers to the Philadelphia police department, addressing staffing shortages by hiring up to 4,000 new city workers.

“The mayor — me, myself personally, and he, himself personally — you have to go out yourself,” DeLeon said. “Ask for the help you need to run the city. Don’t just put it on various department heads.”

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