Former Fulton Co. DA remembered as master storyteller

April 03, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - Merrill W. Kerlin, a longtime attorney in Fulton County, Pa., is being remembered by friends as a man who exhibited integrity, dedication and honesty, but also as an impeccable storyteller with a repertoire of jokes at his disposal.

"He was legendary in Fulton County. He enjoyed a lot of friends and had a lot of respect from people," said state Sen. Robert C. Jubelirer, R-Altoona, whose district includes Fulton County.

Kerlin died Saturday of cancer-related complications.

A bombardier during World War II, Kerlin returned to his home county to practice law and, in his lifetime, served 21 years as district attorney, participate in a number of organizations and serve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

He also was a popular master of ceremonies at political and civic events, according to friends.

"He was a great storyteller, and he used that to create spin in the courtroom," attorney Jim M. Schall said.


Schall said Kerlin had an ability to use a story to get a jury's full attention.

"There were many times I sat there and thought, 'Man, I wish I could do that,'" Schall said.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Kerlin worked out of what was then the two-attorney town of McConnellsburg before becoming district attorney.

Jubelirer said one of his first encounters with Kerlin came as the two tried a homicide case in the 1960s.

"He taught me a lot, frankly, as a young lawyer against an experienced district attorney," Jubelirer said.

The county's current district attorney, Dwight C. Harvey, started his career as an associate in Kerlin's law office and later partnered with Kerlin's son.

"Merrill was just a very generous person, very mild-mannered, just a very nice person to be around. He treated me very well. He was one of the best people in my life," Harvey said.

Not too long ago, Harvey and Kerlin discussed their experiences as attorneys, and Kerlin felt that helping people was his greatest career accomplishment.

"People come into your office with all sorts of problems. A lot of them don't know where else to turn," Harvey said.

"He was loyal to his clients, dedicated to them. When a lot of people thought of lawyers in Fulton County, or the law, they thought of Merrill Kerlin," Schall said.

Kerlin was active in a number of organizations including the Lions Club, state and local bar associations, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Republican State Committee. He served on the board of directors of Fulton County National Bank and Trust Co. for 40 years.

"His desk was piled at least a foot-and-a-half high," said Robert Snyder, who cut short a trip to Florida to be with Kerlin on Friday.

Snyder and Kerlin bonded as they worked out of offices across the street from each other for a number of years, and Snyder's son later befriended Kerlin when he moved into one of the offices.

"His wit and charm, they were incredible," Robert Snyder II said.

The Herald-Mail Articles