The Legacy

Jim Beasley Sr., a legendary, boot-stomping Philadelphia Lawyer, left his firm in the hands of his ne’er-do-well son. But now Beasley Jr.’s quiet approach is not only winning big cases, but signaling a new era in the city’s courtrooms

The shoot-’em-up cowboy tactics of the father have given way to the subtler skills of the son. And all these years later, the Kid is no longer scrambling out of his father’s headlights. He is standing where everyone can see him — even in the courtroom, where the glare is brightest. And the incredible thing is, he looks like the right man for his time.

IT’S A HOT summer day in June. Jim Beasley Jr., the Kid, is bent over a cardboard box and working it open quickly, like a child stricken with Christmas fever. He has been waiting for this moment through much of the trial — the chance to introduce Exhibit P-51, the object in the box.

The case began a week earlier. Beasley’s client is Robert Black, an internist in the UPenn health system. Black underwent cancer-related prostate surgery in his late 40s. He walked away impotent. He and his wife waited five sexless years for him to be declared cancer-free. Then he opted for an inflatable penile prosthesis. The device includes a fluid reservoir, two inflatable plastic rods and a tiny pump. Squeezing the pump in one of his testicles would push fluid from the reservoir into the rods inside his penis. Hallelujah. An erection. But he suffered complications. The three-ounce fluid reservoir wound up stuffed inside his bladder before he ever left the hospital. He remains impotent today. He hasn’t had sex with his wife in seven years.

Beasley took the case knowing it would be difficult to win. Bladder injuries are common enough among penile implant patients that they present no grounds for a lawsuit. His only claim is that a weeklong delay in diagnosing the problem is worth punishing. He also took the case knowing that the defendant, Terrence Malloy, is one of the most accomplished penile-implant surgeons in the country.

So … what’s in that box? In a sense, what’s in the box doesn’t matter. The box is a MacGuffin — the term film director Alfred Hitchcock coined to describe the briefcase every character wants to possess, the safe every film thief wants to crack. The MacGuffin is the reason the characters in the film behave as they do. The MacGuffin takes on the sum total of all our hopes and fears. And once the MacGuffin is secure, the film is over.

For Jim Beasley Jr., then, the object in the box must have something to do with his father.

BEASLEY SR. GOT to the top — that’s his name on Temple’s Beasley School of Law — after starting at the bottom. His own father died when he was just 14 years old, and his early work history included stints as a bus driver and a motorcycle cop. But once he finished law school, he discovered the courtroom was really where he belonged. In a long, distinguished career, he won more than 100 cases with verdicts of at least a million dollars.

He died in September 2004 at 78 years old, just 13 days after being diagnosed with cancer, prompting one of the city’s other legendary attorneys, Richard Sprague, to declare: “He was the sun around which we planets revolved.”